State-of-county speeches produce conflicting views HARFORD COUNTY

February 10, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

Other counties have laid off or furloughed employees and cut services to weather the economic storm, but Harford County has emerged unscathed, with a $13.6 million surplus, under the leadership of County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.

In her state-of-the-county speech to the County Council last night, the executive touted the county's economic health as a product of good money management.

Predicting continued good financial footing, she promised a cost-of-living raise for county employees, who have gone two years without one.

"From the beginning, we were determined to put into effect strong financial and management programs," Mrs. Rehrmann said, delivering a prepared speech.

"As a result of our strong financial position, we have been able to move . . . needed construction projects while taking advantage of good prices and low financing rates."

But the message from council President Jeffrey D. Wilson, delivered after Mrs. Rehrmann's speech, painted a more bleak picture of life in Harford, saying its citizens are in "despair."

"Citizens began to doubt that we can ever attain an adequate -- not to mention optimal -- level of public services and facilities, or that we will ever get a handle on environmental depredation or that they in their old age, or their children in their youth, shall be able to afford to live here," Mr. Wilson said.

"Business people doubt their ability to survive, let alone prosper."

He added that while financial health is essential for the county, "It is not sufficient in the promotion, maintenance and restoration of community."

Mr. Wilson, who also delivered a prepared speech, urged raises for county employees and increased spending for education.

"We continue to be amazed at the outstanding job our teachers have been doing with our children in spite of leaky roofs, out-of-date equipment and all the other results of per-pupil spending, which continues to be 22nd out of Maryland's 24 subdivisions," he said.

"How long do our children have to wait for us to do better?"

Mr. Wilson also called on the county administration and the council to push ahead with legislation that would help control the effects of growth to prevent strains on county services and infrastructure, such as roads or water and sewer lines.

So far, the only such legislation proposed by Mrs. Rehrmann, and passed by the council, limits development in areas where schools could be overcrowded within three years of a housing development's construction.

In her speech, Mrs. Rehrmann promised to introduce the remaining pieces of a growth-management package, to include regulations on county water and sewer capacity, road capacity and transportation.

"Our quality of life is directly linked to managing growth so that our county can continue to be a place where people want to live and work," said Mrs. Rehrmann.

She cited improvements to infrastructure -- expanding the Sod Run waste treatment plant and signing an agreement with Baltimore to tap its aqueduct for water -- as steps that "have helped to strengthen our foundation" for attracting businesses.

On the community front, Mrs. Rehrmann emphasized the importance of volunteerism, singling out several individuals for their service, and said she believed in the need to reinforce the concept of community spirit.

To that end, she said she would establish a Futures Commission to encourage citizens and communities to help shape the county's plans.

"We have been through difficult times, but we have persevered," Mrs. Rehrmann said.

"We have worked hard to find new ways of doing things. And our county has moved forward. Our vision is clear: a county where people want to live and work."

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