Harford's Calm Amid the Storm

November 09, 1992

You're Eileen Rehrmann. You run Harford County. You wake the morning after Election Day to find that voters have clapped a tax cap on your colleague Bobby Neall in Anne Arundel County. In Howard County, the electorate approved term limits to throw the bums out. And in Carroll County, voters rejected home rule, saying in effect, they would rather remain in the Dark Ages of commissioner government if the alternative means greater responsibility in the hands of politicians.

And what did your county's voters tell you on Election Day, Mrs. Rehrmann? Create a new tax and do less competitive bidding for county purchases. That's why you're smiling the morning after the election.

Harford's referendum results flew in the face of the pattern elsewhere in Baltimore's outer suburbs. From Annapolis to Westminster, voters turned out to repudiate politicians and show they're sick and tired of waste and status quo.

In Harford, however, voters overwhelmingly approved Question A, saying in effect that they trust the county administration to plan for the future and not to waste their money. Question A allows the county to establish a plan to pay farmers not to sell to developers. Farmers still have to be sold on the plan themselves. Its goal is to preserve the county's farm industry and its rural flavor. The plan would create a 1 percent transfer tax on housing sales, raising about $5 million a year to be split between farm preservation and new schools.

Of course, the ballot questions also reflected the conservatism that has been the character of Harford County government for a long time. A new transfer tax affects only those who buy houses; it is not as pervasive, and thus not as offensive to many, as an increase in the property tax rate.

Harford residents are satisfied that their representatives aren't too quick to spend a buck. The school system is near the bottom in the state in dollars spent per pupil, garnering impressive test scores nonetheless. The county is on steady enough financial footing that it was the only metropolitan jurisdiction that didn't furlough employees last year (although it is considering laying off state health workers this year.) A tax protest group, like ones in northern Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, hasn't taken root in Harford.

So, Mrs. Rehrmann has reason to be content. When the subject is money and politics, her constituents don't seem angry. Just don't ask them about "growth."

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