County touted as good spot to await recovery Neall ready to 'reinvent' government ANNE ARUNDEL BUSINESS

April 08, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

Business booms 1980s-style may be gone forever, but in a lingering recession, Anne Arundel County isn't a bad place to be, County Executive Robert R. Neall told a gathering of small-business people yesterday.

County officials plan to forge public-private partnerships as part of an overall goal of consolidating government departments and cutting costs, the executive said to some 50 members of the Entrepreneur's Exchange, a nonprofit group that offers support, education and marketing exposure to owners of small businesses.

"Anne Arundel County is about to make local government history," Mr. Neall predicted during the group's monthly luncheon at Busch's Chesapeake Inn in Annapolis. "Out of necessity, we are reinventing government."

The need to do so stems from the recession that has diminished state aid to local governments and the voter-approved property tax cap that limits the county's income, Mr. Neall said.

"The economy will slowly recover, but I don't think it will go back to the booming growth of the '80s," he said.

The county executive's view came as no surprise to Barbara Baumgartner, a member of the exchange and owner of Side Street Framers, a shop in Severna Park.

"We knew long before they called it a recession we were in one," said Ms. Baumgartner, who saw a sharp decline in the number of people ordering frames. "People became money-conscious, getting little repairs instead of new frames."

Mr. Neall promised that the budget he will present to the County Council in less than a month will be leaner than any he has worked on during his career.

It will reduce the number of departments from 24 to 18, by combining, for example, the departments of Utilities with Public Works and the departments of Planning and Zoning with Inspection and Permits.

He also touted the county's Incentive Fund, another effort in which a partnership of county officials and 16 banks will have $3 million available for business loans by July 1.

The loans will benefit businesses that otherwise might have trouble obtaining loans, because of insufficient capital, for example.

As part of the effort to reduce county government, Mr. Neall also urged business owners to support a change in policy that would make it possible for government to rely on contractors instead of county employees -- a proposal that has met with fierce resistance from county labor unions.

Now, language in contracts with five unions prohibits the county from hiring contractors if that would displace county workers.

"If there's a task to be done, get the job done and shut it down when you don't need it," Mr. Neall said. "You don't need a lifeguard on the swimming pool in the winter."

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