Executive, Szczybor square off

March 20, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann and Ron Szczybor, the only announced challenger for her job, squared off on several countywide issues Wednesday in the first of several candidate forums sponsored by United We Stand, America -- Maryland.

About 45 people went to Harford Community College to hear the two speak about the budget, public safety, education and economic development, among other things.

It was not a debate -- the two did not appear on stage at the same time -- but it was the first time the candidates had addressed the same audience. Each spoke for 15 minutes and then took questions for 15 minutes.

"Mrs. Rehrmann claims she hasn't increased taxes," said Mr. Szczybor, who addressed the audience first, "but she has increased every fee possible."

He cited water and sewer rates, tipping fees to trash haulers, building inspection and permit fees, marriage license fees and the county transfer tax on real estate, all of which were instituted or increased in the past three years.

He was also critical of Mrs. Rehrmann's budgetary tactics, calling the 5 percent unappropriated fund balance she has held in reserve annually "illegal" and "imprudent."

"As county executive, I will stop this debt binge," said Mr. Szczybor, an independent financial consultant who announced last month that he would run for county executive. Mr. Szczybor is a Republican.

The Abingdon resident is on the County Council's Budget Advisory Board and was a member of the 1991-1992 Fiscal and Budget Review Committee. He is co-owner of the Maryland Sports Arena in Edgewood.

He also criticized the county's jobless rate, shortage of sheriff's deputies and sluggish economic growth, blaming Mrs. Rehrmann's "bad judgment" for all three.

Mrs. Rehrmann, a Democrat who has indicated that she will run for re-election this year, defended the unappropriated fund balance as a good business practice to implement "when revenues are no longer predictable." She said the fund was approved by the county's attorneys, auditors and bond counsel.

The fund, which represents 5 percent of the county's general fund operating budget and was held in reserve for emergency use, was responsible for winning the county improved bond ratings last fall and ultimately saving thousands of dollars in interest, she said.

The county executive reminded the audience of the $8 million in funding Harford lost from the state over the past three years, in addition to the county having to take over from the state $6 million in Social Security payments for some county employees.

"So we not only had a slowing of revenues but also cuts by the state and federal government," she said.

During questions from the audience, Mrs. Rehrmann defended the county's decision to pay $400,000 to the family of an inmate who had died in the Detention Center before an investigation of the death was completed.

A grand jury report later exonerated jail personnel.

"My responsibility was to limit the county's financial exposure," she told the audience. She said the $19 million increase in funding that the school system has requested for fiscal 1995 makes her feel like "the grinch at Christmas."

"There is no way we can fully fund the board of education," she told the audience.

United We Stand, America is a national organization founded by H. Ross Perot that focuses on economic and government reform.

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