Longtime Carroll comptroller is retiring

Curfman leaving job he has held since the '80s

October 26, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The man who has made a living guiding Carroll County finances and a life serving volunteer firefighters changes direction this week. Eugene C. "Gene" Curfman, county comptroller, is retiring to devote himself full time to the avocation that has held his attention since childhood.

He will handle a few last agenda items with the county commissioners today, issues such as deciding whose signature will replace his on the county's credit card. That's fairly mundane for Curfman, who has overseen the financing of huge projects, such as the County Office Building and a subsequent addition, the regional airport, Carroll Community College and four new high schools.

Carroll has grown by nearly 100,000 people since he joined the county and began working for a population of about 69,000. His staff has grown from a few bookkeepers to 40 employees.

"A community has to grow or it will die," he said. "You just have to plan for what is coming."

He has fought for more industrial development, tried to hold down taxes and fees and made sure the county received the best bond ratings possible.

"He is thoroughly familiar with the bond market," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who has worked with Curfman during her four terms in office. "He understands all the details about bonding, financing and retirement systems. And he can explain them so everyone can understand."

At 55, Curfman concedes that he is young to retire, but the sudden loss of his 48-year-old sister last year, six months after the death of their mother, made the decision easier for him, he said.

"It makes you realize that life is short," Curfman said. "If you can afford to retire and take time for yourself and what you really want to do, you should go ahead."

Curfman, whose firefighting experience exceeds his accounting career by nearly a decade, wants to help those who share his passion for the volunteer service. For the next nine months, he will be campaigning across the state, hoping to win the office of second vice president with the Maryland State Firemen's Association, an organization he has served as treasurer. The election is in June.

"I feel like I am doing as much campaigning as political candidates," he said. "Only I am driving, not flying all over, unless you count those late-night drives."

Carroll's comptroller since the early 1980s leaves the county's employ this week, 31 years after answering a newspaper ad for a junior accountant. At the time, the lifelong Union Bridge resident was doing a brief stint with an accounting firm in Washington. He did not take to city living or corporate accounting.

"Two years in Washington made me more than happy to move back to small-town U.S.A. and stay there," he said.

He joined the county staff, when only a few bookkeepers collected taxes and paid the bills. He finished his degree at night driving from Westminster to what was then the Baltimore College of Commerce. He learned to "go with the flow" as he worked with ever-changing boards of commissioners who "all had different styles," he said.

`Grew with the job'

"I kind of grew with the job and became director because the commissioners then had enough confidence in me," he said. "It just happened."

The present board has been among the most accommodating to the county staff, Curfman said.

"They have told us what they want to accomplish and asked us how to do it," he said. "That attitude makes our jobs easier."

Gouge credits Curfman with saving the county millions and helping her understand the budget process.

"What I like about Gene is his steadiness and his solidness," Gouge said. "Everyone could always depend on him. He was never afraid to make changes. He always looks for a better way."

Steven D. Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff and the county's former director of management and budget, said Curfman "is the major reason why the county is in solid fiscal shape. Because of Gene, the underlying foundation for the county is very strong."

Carole Hammen, director of Carroll's human resources department, called honesty Curfman's most remarkable attribute.

"He says it like it is, not in the prettiest or most diplomatic way, but in a definitive, honest way," Hammen said. "Gene is an institution. No one can replace him. He is in for a big change and entering another phase of his life with the fire company."

Curfman predicts an easy transition. He has already served as president of the Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association, which is now the Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association.

"I have been around fire companies since I was a baby, when my parents would take me to the New Windsor fire station, " he said. "I grew up in the fire service. It is like a big family to me."

Curfman has yet to dismantle his sparsely decorated office - "I am leaving a lot of stuff here," he said. But he has prepared the commissioners, their Cabinet and his staff for his departure, confident the county's business will run smoothly.

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