At the helm of shrinking government of course: Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger hasn't had an easy 16 months in office, but his plans include running again.

April 07, 1996|By Larry Carson

C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III has been Baltimore County executive for almost 16 months. The former prosecutor and county councilman came into the job with the county facing tough economic times and with continuing turmoil swirling about school superintendent Dr. Stuart Berger, who left in August.

Meanwhile, the school board's recent selection of new superintendent, Anthony G. Marchione, was punctuated by protests sparked by the lagging test scores of African-American students.

When he was elected to a four-year term in November 1994, Mr. Ruppersberger favored transferring appointment power over school board members from the governor to the county executive. He says he still wants that power but has no plans to actually seek it from the General Assembly because the school system needs stability -- not controversy.

At a time when revenues are flat, public opposition to tax increases strong, and state and federal budget cuts still loom, county government has been forced to shrink. Still, pressure for expensive new classrooms to serve growing school enrollments, for more attention to the academic needs of African-American children and to strengthen the police to fight crime are growing.

As Mr. Ruppersberger prepares to deliver his second annual county budget April 15, he answered questions about those and other subjects.

You've made a commitment not to raise taxes. But revenues remain flat and you haven't been able to raise county salaries either. Do you see these conditions remaining unchanged in the next two years?

Wait a minute! I didn't commit not to ever raise taxes. I feel at this point, I need to manage through these difficult times and restructure government. When I feel we have gotten to the level that we need to be and we still can't afford to provide basic services, then I'll look at the issue of taxes, but at this point I don't feel it's necessary. We do not need to raise taxes and we will generate the revenue through economic development and through jobs.

As far as cost-of-living [pay raises] is concerned, I can't predict that. I hope we can start reclassifying the salaries of those who are staying. They're being asked to do more. I want to make sure I can compensate them fairly.

I'm putting in a new policy where I'm going to be requiring all department heads -- and I will review each month -- the expenditures and revenues coming in and out of this county to make sure we have a handle on our fiscal matters. I'm going to be holding people accountable.

With the recent retirement of 256 county workers, agencies like highways, recreation and parks, and permits and licenses are at staffing levels lower than after the 1993 layoffs. What else can be cut without going into public safety and education, your two top JTC priorities? Has the list of possible cuts been exhausted?

No [additional cuts are possible]. Based on the evaluation and the retirement incentive, we will have additional monies to fund those priorities -- public safety, education and revitalization of older communities.

We planned on that [low staff levels]. When we looked at the retirement incentive, we made a decision that we were not going to affect service. We would not interfere with the front-lines people providing the service. We just didn't need the midlevel management that existed. That was part of my strategy in downsizing this government, which we need to do to balance our budget.

Do you intend to run for re-election in 1998? Are you considering running for any other office?

Yes. I mean that's my intention at this time. My focus is to run again for Baltimore County executive. I really like this job. I feel I can make a difference. Politics, though, is timing. There's a lot of things that can happen. At this point, I'm focusing on Baltimore County executive.

Would you recommend or lobby for changes in the way the school board selects the superintendent the next time a change is made?

I think we need stability and I'm not making it an issue at this time, but it's my position that the county executive should appoint the school board, because we pay the majority of the education costs in Baltimore County.

If you pay for it, then there should be accountability. I believe that I should be able to hold the school board accountable. I do not want to be involved in curriculum, I just want to focus on holding them accountable.

The school board will be judged on the performance of Tony Marchione, whom I happen to respect and I feel that I can work with. I have a lot of confidence and faith in his integrity and his abilities that we can work together and not have the continual conflicts that have occurred as long as I've been an elected official.

Did you lobby either directly or indirectly in favor of Dr. Marchione being picked for the job?

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