Officials outline plans

Soon to be sworn in, they work on keeping campaign promises

December 03, 2006|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,sun reporter

A gaggle of ceremonies next week will put new nameplates on Anne Arundel County office doors, as candidates elected last month are pressed by voters to make good on their campaign promises.

Issues facing the new county executive and council members, who are being sworn in tomorrow, include the perennials of managing the county's finances and development. But there are new twists amid financial belt-tightening.

Expected growth at Fort Meade in the western part of the county will put more pressures - for traffic relief, government services and affordable housing - on county leaders, and redevelopment of the West Street corridor and Parole area will do so around Annapolis.

All labor contracts are up for negotiation this year.

And looming changes in accounting standards mean that the county will have to fund anticipated pension plans or report them as the liability of unfunded future expenses. The figure is estimated at up to $75 million a year for 30 years. Decisions could affect the county's ability to borrow money for other projects.

Two more new officials will assume jobs on opposite sides of the fourth floor of the Anne Arundel County Court House, as the county gets its first new register of wills in 20 years and the chief deputy sheriff moves into the sheriff's office.

County executive

Five-term legislator John R. Leopold switches to leading the county through a challenging time when he and his new appointees move to offices in the Arundel Center tomorrow.

With financial issues looming, the 63-year-old Republican said he is saving close to $1 million in salaries with top-level restructuring that combines jobs (for example, the chief administrative officer will also be chief of staff), eliminates others - among them land use officer - and keeps vacant other posts, such as human resources chief.

Among his early plans are to revise the county's General Development Plan and strengthen the Adequate Public Facilities law so that the aggregate impact of developments is a consideration, instead of each development individually. The law says that roads, schools and other infrastructure must be able to handle the additional loads and sets development fees.

Tying in with those is his desire for a six-year capital projects' schedule similar to the blueprint the state creates.

"There needs to be a greater degree of certainty so that everyone is aware when projects will be in place, and greater coordination between subdivision improvements and developments and the implementation of needed infrastructure," Leopold said.

At a time when "we have million-dollar homes cropping up like dandelions," the county faces a growing lack of affordable housing for its work force, so creating local homes for local workers has to be on the agenda, he said.

Particularly thorny is how to resolve the accounting dilemma of unfunded pensions. Some say they should be funded, and others maintain that carrying $75 million as an unfunded liability might not be particularly harmful to the county's bond rating, Leopold said.

"We are going to work on that issue. If it is necessary to set money aside, we will do it," he said.

County Council

Three Democratic newcomers will join the four Republican incumbents. Returning to the council are C. Edward Middlebrooks of District 2, Ronald C. Dillon Jr. of District 3, Cathleen M. Vitale of District 5, and Edward R. Reilly of District 7. The newcomers are:

District 1

When Democrat Daryl Jones, 42, of Severn, is sworn in as the second black person elected to the County Council, a key person who nurtured his career will be missed. His mother, Corita Jones, died 11 days before the election.

Jones, a lawyer who grew up in Glen Burnie, credits his upbringing with infusing in him the values he wants to turn into council actions. Among them, he said, are "where to place your values, the importance of education and inclusiveness."

Linking transportation and a variety of services for disabled residents is another priority. Jones also wants the county to construct a ballpark for disabled athletes in the Bachman Sports Complex in Glen Burnie. Few such handicapped-accessible parks exist nationwide.

"This way, physically disabled children and adults can participate in a great American pastime and not feel excluded," he said.

Public safety and education are among his biggest issues, including properly providing services and paying employees. He would like to enlarge the Police Department and bring more officers to areas with more problems, such as Brooklyn Park.

The federal Base Realignment and Closure process, which is expected to bring an influx of workers to the county, means that local officials will have to work closely with surrounding jurisdictions and with state and federal agencies to deal with myriad growth issues, Jones said.

He wants "to make Anne Arundel County an attractive place for people to want to be," he said.

District 4

Jamie Benoit, 35, is a political novice, but he is not a newcomer to the county.

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