Rats, blighted properties and absentee landlords were among the concerns southwest Baltimore County residents shared Wednesday with County Executive Kevin Kamenetz at his first community forum.

At the event in Lansdowne, Kamenetz emphasized the county's fiscal management, saying that the county is "weathering these tough times better than most." He pointed to consolidation of public agencies and a focus on the most essential services.

The county has its smallest workforce in 25 years, and it has not raised property or income taxes for decades.

"We can't afford to do everything like we did in the past," Kamenetz said at the forum, hosted by Bakery Express on Hollins Ferry Road.

But some of the roughly 30 people in attendance said cuts to programs hurt residents.

There are fewer local recreational opportunities for youths and the area has lost recreation staff because of county consolidations, said Moses Rodriguez, president of the Baltimore Highlands Community Association.

"I think some of the budget cuts are hurting," he said.

Other problems were on the minds of many residents.

"The rats are taking over the whole area," said Ron Whitehead, president of the Riverview Community Association, adding that absentee landlords contribute to the problem.

Christine Koloski, vice president of the Lansdowne Improvement Association, said residents have struggled with business owners who don't care for their properties. She said it was damaging the area's reputation, hurting property values and discouraging people from buying homes there.

"The problem that we have here is ... code enforcement can only go so far," she said. "We're up against a wall when it comes to the law."

County Councilman Tom Quirk, whose district includes Lansdowne, told residents that the area is ripe for economic development.

Kaiser Permanente plans to open a state-of-the art medical facility next year, and Heavy Seas brewery is expanding, said Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat.

"This area is getting a lot of attention," he said.

Officials have not picked the site of the next "Coffee with Kevin" community forum but hope to announce one soon, said Don Mohler, the county executive's chief of staff.

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