Baltimore County's Money Drain

April 20, 1995

At the outset of C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger's tenure as Baltimore County executive -- dare we say it, the first 100 days -- he has put an emphasis on grasping the big picture.

He backed Baltimore's request to have the state take over its bloated court system, realizing that swifter justice in the city meant greater safety in the county. He alerted the incoming governor to the possible loss of a McCormick Inc. project to Pennsylvania and didn't mind that the investment landed in neighboring Harford County. He has urged his colleagues not to let the anti-tax zealots dictate the terms of the area's political debate. And he seems duly alarmed that his county is growing ever older, ever poorer.

The statistic that unnerved him recently was the county's income tax revenue for 1994. Its 1.9 percent growth was the third-worst in the state.

Baltimore County's population growth -- 2.8 percent since 1990 -- has been slower than all but a handful of jurisdictions in Maryland. But its problems run deeper than slow growth; the county keeps trading richer for poorer, losing middle- and upper-class households to the outer counties.

Data from the Maryland Office of Planning is instructive:

* One-third of the city residents relocating to Baltimore County in 1990 earned at least $25,000. Two-thirds of the people leaving Baltimore County for Howard, Harford and Carroll did so.

* One-fifth of city residents relocating to the county had no high school diploma, a level twice as great as for county residents moving out.

* Eight percent of city-to-county migrants had incomes below the poverty level, four times as great as county-to-county transplants.

* Nearly a fifth of families moving from city to county were headed by a single mom, four times greater than among families leaving Baltimore County.

There's no quick fix to this trend. It mirrors the dimming of the initial post-World War II suburbs across the country. Mr. Ruppersberger wants to halt this middle-class export by making the town centers of Owings Mills and White Marsh realize their potential. That concern is also the impetus driving his controversial proposal to lower closing costs for home buyers, in part by reducing the property tax discount given to existing homeowners. The Baltimore County executive is asking a question that needs more attention: Now that cities are deteriorating, are the inner suburbs next?

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