Painting a bleak picture of the county's fiscal future, County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann urged business leaders Thursday "become even more involved" in local economic development efforts and to form partnerships with local government to make the economy grow.
"My job is making government work. Your job is to make the economic engine of our county work," she told 400 members and guests at a Harford County Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
"We need mentors, ambassadors, trouble-shooters and assistance in all areas. Government can't do it alone."
Mrs. Rehrmann's remarks were included in her annual address to the chamber at the Colonel's Choice restaurant in Aberdeen. She had placed forms on each of the tables for interested business people to sign up as "ambassadors for business."
About 25 of the forms were returned by the next day, signed and showing areas of personal interest and expertise, said administration spokesman George Harrison.
Mrs. Rehrmann told the group that the county is facing a continuing "slowdown" in revenue growth and will have to make adjustments both in this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and in budget deliberations for next year.
She said the county's income tax revenue has slowed dramatically to a growth rate of only 2 percent to 3 percent. In addition, the one-third of the county that has just been assessed for property taxes resulted in a growth rate of only 3.7 percent, she said.
Amid those indications of a flat economy, the county executive ++ last month ordered all departments to reduce their current year's budget by 5.4 percent. Deliberations over those cutbacks are still going on.
The county's 1995-1996 budget, she said, "won't be like Christmas, but more like a drought."
She said the budget will continue to carry a 5 percent unappropriated fund balance, as a rainy-day account, "in light of the uncertain economic times." And the county will find ways to provide for "expenses down the road," including the planned expansion of the county Detention Center, which will cost $2.1 million in new operating money.
Mrs. Rehrmann told the chamber that, since fiscal 1991, there has been an increase of $33 million in the general operating fund, the basic expense account of county government. But more than 83 percent of that -- more than $27 million -- has gone to the Board of Education, she said. Discounting cost-of-living wage increases, most of the other county departments and agencies, have actually experienced a reduction in spending money.
The bottom line, she said, is that the government can't continue to pay for services that county citizens have come to expect.
With that in mind, Mrs. Rehrmann said, she has begun to form several work groups combining government and business expertise. One of the groups will monitor military base closures and downsizings ordered by the federal government, and work to protect Aberdeen Proving Ground's status as a vital %o installation. APG accounts for 5,200 military and 8,800 civilian jobs in the county.
She also asked for volunteers to organize a business summit in the coming year and to join a committee that will explore the potential of tourism as a private-sector initiative, rather than as an arm of the local economic development department.
"We must make sure that Harford County is headed in the right direction for business development and has the necessary tools," Mrs. Rehrmann said.
She reminded chamber members that she has asked the county's General Assembly delegation to support legislation this year to give tax credits for business and industrial development, and for revitalization and expansion efforts.
Those tools are important, she said, because "economic development for new and existing business has gotten much more competi- tive. . . .
"We're not competing with other counties, but with other states."