Private economic development agency on hold Department's performance, lack of time, money delay county's plans until fall

April 29, 1996|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Plans to privatize Baltimore County's Department of Economic Development have been postponed at least until fall because of a shortage of time and money, and because the department is running well, county officials say.

When County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III took office last year, he said he wanted to set up a private economic development agency that would be more effective in recruiting businesses. Several Maryland counties, including Howard and Anne Arundel, have private agencies.

But last week, Mr. Ruppersberger and members of his administration said they are pleased with the department's performance and are in no rush to change.

"It's on hold for the time being," said economic development Director Robert M. Hannon.

He said the main reason for the delay is that Mr. Ruppersberger hasn't had time to recruit directors to oversee a private agency.

Last fall -- the original date for privatizing the department -- Mr. Ruppersberger became embroiled in a dispute over a plan to move families from Baltimore public housing to the county.

By the time that controversy had subsided, he was pushing his legislative agenda through the General Assembly. Now the administration is focusing on the annual budget.

The county's financial uncertainties also were a factor in the delay, said Michael Davis, Mr. Ruppersberger's spokesman. Although the county would fund a private economic development agency at the same level as the public department, it would need additional money to set it up.

"We decided it would be bad timing," Mr. Davis said. "We thought it would be difficult if we were cutting things and laying people off, that there wouldn't be enough money to privatize."

The administration has other details to work out, including obtaining approval from the County Council.

Mr. Hannon said privatization remains a goal -- even if it is no longer a priority.

A private agency could solicit donations from businesses to help promote tourism and international trade and to enhance loan programs, he said.

Corporate money also could be used to supplement Mr. Hannon's $88,000 salary.

Terry Rubenstein, board chairwoman of the county Chamber of Commerce, said the business community isn't worried about the delay in the privatization. "I don't think it makes any difference."

When Mr. Ruppersberger announced his plan for a private agency, business leaders had mixed feelings, she noted. Although they believed it might improve economic development efforts, they worried that a new agency would detract from the many other business groups in the county.

Mrs. Rubenstein said that under the new administration, the economic development department has performed well, establishing a business enterprise zone and attracting companies.

"Under Bob Hannon, the office is very aggressive, whether it's privatized or not," she said. "There has been teamwork with the administration."

Pub Date: 4/29/96

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