THREE YEARS ago this week I wrote my first column as an editorial writer in Anne Arundel County. I dug it up last week because this column will be the last I write for The Sun in Anne Arundel.
As of next week, I'll be assigned to the paper's Baltimore County bureau. Norris West, another member of the editorial department, will take over here.
On rereading my first column, I realize that I had committed myself to mastering the county's geography. I promised to travel to corners of the county I had never visited. I did make it to Deale and Shady Side, although I must confess that I never got down to Rose Haven as intended.
I learned the quickest route from Pasadena to the Arundel Center, the county government headquarters. I also mastered the back roads of Gambrills, Severn and Pasadena.
I found my way to the Kiwanis at the Davidsonville Volunteer Fire Department and the Brooklyn Park Lions Club that meets in a restaurant at the city line.
I can confidently say that after three years, I know my way around the county much better. But that is not all that I learned.
Doughnuts and Italian food
I learned that Baltimore region's best doughnuts, particularly the cinnamon crunch, are made at Kellar's Bakery in Linthicum. Some of the best Italian food west of Tuscany can be found at Alberto's Trattoria in Glen Burnie.
I found the Cheshire Crab, where I spent some gorgeous spring and fall afternoons eating and drinking on the deck overlooking Bodkin Creek. I discovered the baseball-sized crab cake at Roy's Kwik Corner and Annie's foot-long hot dogs.
I also found that the guys at Pasadena's Fresh Meadows make a great tuna sub and always serve it with a smile and a friendly word.
I learned I can get my 25-year-old turntable fixed at Iliff Complete Electronics and my lawn mower restored to working condition at Glen Burnie Lawn Mower service.
As much as I enjoyed discovering new places where I could fill my belly and take care of my household repairs, I had the best time observing county politics from a front-row seat.
One thing obvious from that vantage point was the profoundly negative impact that the county's property tax revenue cap has had -- and will continue to have -- on government.
Anne Arundel is the quintessential suburb where residents want first-class public services but don't want to pay for them.
So far the county has been able to scrape by in large part because of the extended economic recovery and a government well staffed by dedicated public servants.
Despite the tightening revenues, public services -- from schools to libraries -- have been maintained at high levels. But the day of reckoning is approaching.
Even though the economy is still booming, this year's county budget will resemble the ones approved in the early 1990s when the nation was mired in recession.
The school system will be able to maintain itself, but there won't be money to pay for programs to improve academic performance.
Public employees may get pay raises, but a hiring freeze is likely.
The school repair backlog will continue to grow. The miles of road the county will be able to resurface will decline again.
Revise the tax-cap formula
Since repealing the tax cap is politically impossible, county residents should pursue revising the formula, which never anticipated the current low rate of inflation in spite of a growing economy.
If they don't, Anne Arundel, which has the potential to be one of the most attractive counties for new businesses, may end up losing out to neighboring jurisdictions willing to pay for adequate public services.
I want to thank the people I have met and new friends I made in Anne Arundel. You have challenged me and I thank you for that.
When I travel Ritchie Highway, however, I still have trouble figuring out where Harundale ends and Pasadena begins.
To letter writers
Readers are encouraged to write to Letters to the Editor, The Baltimore Sun, 8131 Ritchie Highway, Pasadena, MD 21122, or you can fax letters to 410-315-8916. Please include your telephone number, which we won't publish, so we can verify all letters. The purpose of "Viewpoints" is to gather a wide range of them -- ours, yours and others' -- on matters of importance to Anne Arundel County. The page also supplements editorials about Anne Arundel that appear weekdays on the editorial pages in the first section of The Sun.
Pub Date: 4/11/99