Baltimore County's new executive, council and court officials will be sworn into office tomorrow with high hopes but empty pockets, as lower than expected income tax revenues eat holes in the county's budget.
The incoming executive, C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, and seven councilmen will take the oath of office on the fountain plaza between old and new Towson courthouses at 11 a.m., weather permitting.
In the event of rain, the swearing-in will take place in the ceremonial courtroom in the old courthouse.
A traditional two-hour reception at the Towson Armory will follow. After that, the County Council, led by new chairman Vincent J. Gardina, will meet for the first time.
Although he is bubbling over with plans and the county faces financial difficulties, Mr. Ruppersberger said his first priority will be snowstorm readiness.
"We can't control the weather," he said. Recalling the cold and ice that paralyzed the county for days last winter, he added, "I do not think we did the job."
The Cockeysville Democrat, who ousted Republican incumbent Roger B. Hayden in November, said he plans a personal inspection of the county's newly expanded road-salt storage sheds and a review of snow-clearing contracts Tuesday, his first full day in office.
Assertiveness and high-profile personal leadership, he and his supporters said, will be hallmarks of his administration -- whether the issue is road salt or personal meetings with business executives considering moving their companies to the area.
Despite his enthusiasm, Mr. Ruppersberger may not be able to escape the fiscal problems he dealt with during nine years on the County Council.
While the national economy is heading toward full employment and some economists fear the growth may be too fast, Baltimore County -- like much of Maryland -- still is seeing symptoms of the recession.
The local problem became clear in September, when $2 million in surplus revenue earmarked for the county's rainy day fund never materialized.
Instead of growing by 3.5 percent, income tax revenues grew by only 1.6 percent. As a result, Mr. Ruppersberger's incoming administration will face a deficit even larger than the $4 million Howard County officials have predicted for themselves this year.
Baltimore County budget director Fred Homan said Friday that he has no firm estimate yet, but the trend doesn't look good.
"Things are sluggish," he declared.
With real estate sales slow, property tax assessments held down by the lingering recession, and political pressure to avoid tax increases, officials say there may not be enough money to
provide a cost-of-living pay raise to county workers.
"I cannot have money printed. If there's not enough for raises, there's not enough," Mr. Ruppersberger said.
Officials also are worried that the state will try to eliminate a projected $1 billion budget deficit over the next four years by cutting aid to local governments once again, despite promises by apparent Gov.-elect Parris N. Glendening to the contrary. During the recession, those cuts cost the county more than $60 million.
"We know . . . our revenues are going to be down," MrRuppersberger said. "We might be in worse shape than last year."
But the incoming executive said the lack of money, the loss of manufacturing jobs and demographic changes that produce more demands for services won't stop him from improving things for both county employees and residents.
Even without money for an across-the-board pay increase, he said, he plans a performance-based system of increases for groups of employees called "gainsharing" that rewards hard work and efficiency.
"There are other ways to motivate employees," he added, including "openness" and "sensitivity." He said he particularly wants police officers to feel connected and appreciated.
The affable, 48-year-old former prosecutor said he intends to be a visible and forceful public leader, while maintaining his reputation as a behind-the-scenes conciliator and deal-maker.
"I plan to be very aggressive in Annapolis and Washington," he said. In particular, he said he wants to promote a sense of unity among county legislators and council members in an effort to corral more school construction money and stave off more cuts in state aid.
When it came to handing out funds for new schools, Gov. William Donald Schaefer favored Montgomery and other counties whose legislators supported his 1992 budget -- which Baltimore County's senators opposed. That has made life difficult for school officials who are facing enrollment increases of 3 percent annually.
"I want to make sure we get our fair share of money for school construction," Mr. Ruppersberger said, a job that will make use of the years of experience he gained working with Democrats and Republicans in the county.
He said he also wants council members to visit Annapolis -- especially Democrats Louis L. DePazzo of Dundalk and Joseph Bartenfelder of Fullerton, veteran legislators who left the House of Delegates this year to run for the council.