Harford County voters will be faced with a clear choice for county executive, a sharp contrast of style, record and view of government. But they will have to wait until November: There is no contest in the Republican or Democratic primary election.
Democrat Eileen M. Rehrmann is seeking a second term as county executive, after four years that saw her mix conservative budget-making with an expansive program of borrowing for long delayed public construction projects. She's been in elective office since 1979, serving on the Bel Air town council and two terms in the state legislature.
Ronald M. Szczybor, a local businessman and investment counselor, is running for office after several years of publicly criticizing Mrs. Rehrmann's financial management in local publications. He's been a vocal member of the County Council's budget advisory board and the county executive's fiscal and budget review committee.
The focus of the Republican's criticism is that Mrs. Rehrmann has raised fees and taxes, and purposely underestimated revenues, while not fully utilizing current revenues and piling up long-term debt. He advocates increased current spending for education. Small business has been virtually ignored by the administration's quest for new, big-name corporate warehouses, he charges.
A central issue is the county's $400,000 settlement with the family of an inmate who died of strangulation in the county jail. Mr. Szczybor has joined with the county sheriff in criticizing the payment as unwarranted, since a later grand jury cleared the jail staff of wrongdoing and ruled the death a suicide. The GOP challenger is also aligned with the sheriff in opposing the creation of a new county police force, a countywide ballot question Mrs. Rehrmann has pushed since the jail death.
Mrs. Rehrmann stands on her record of holding down the property tax rate, increasing jobs, managing growth through rural plan and adequate public facilities measures and pressing ahead with needed water and sewer infrastructure projects.
The next Harford County executive will face even greater pressures of demands for public services and new school construction as the population tops 200,000, while coping with former state obligations that have been shifted to the counties.
With an overwhelming reliance on residential taxes, as opposed to business and industrial, and signs that Harford's success in attracting new businesses may be tailing off, the management challenges will be formidable.