On a drizzly Wednesday morning in Lansdowne, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz told community members that the county's economics are far from sunny but still better than most.
Kamenetz organized the meeting of community members and leaders at Bakery Express on Hollins Ferry Road for the first in a series of outreach programs around the county called Coffee with Kevin.
"The county is actually weathering these tough times better than most," Kamenetz said to the group of about three dozen people.
Kamenetz credited the county's ability to maintain its efficiency while saving money to the consolidation of programs and utilization of technology.
An online crime reporting system, for example, allows people to report minor crimes without having to speak with police officers. That means officers can continue to patrol the streets.
"We're using the tough times as an opportunity," Kamenetz said. "When times are going well, you tend to keep doing things the same way."
He said the county has reduced its payroll, which accounts for 74 cents per tax dollar, thanks to an incentive program that encouraged some of its 1,100 employees near retirement age to leave early. That helped eliminate approximately 200 positions from the 8,000 in the county's workforce.
Kamenetz said some departments have merged into one department to streamline the process and save money, Kamenetz said.
He pointed to examples such as the county's Office of Community Conservation and its Office of Planning, which have merged to become the county's new Department of Planning that will guide future growth and protect existing communities.
"With times being tough, we're focusing on our core services," he said."We can't afford to do everything like we did in the past."
Doing more with less has meant the county did not have to raise its income tax and property tax rates for the 20th and 24th straight years, respectively, Kamenetz said.
Baltimore County is one of less than 1 percent of counties across the nation that has a AAA bond rating, which allows it to get lower interest rates on loans.
When Kamenetz opened the floor for comments, most of those were on infrastructure and code enforcement issues.
Bill Proctor, an 80-year resident of Lansdowne, mentioned that people had abandoned cars in his neighborhood.
Kamenetz had Bryan Sheppard, his special assistant who was also at the meeting, look into the matter.
Ron Whitehead, the president of the Riverview Community Association, asked about the rat eradication program that the county had announced would take place in parts of the southwestern and southeastern part of the county.
Kamenetz responded that it would begin at the end of summer or early fall.
Anthony Friedman, the president of the Bloomfield Community Association, thanked Kamenetz for addressing a drainage problem on Wilson Avenue in his community off Washington Boulevard near the border with Baltimore City.
The association's vice president, Lorna Rudnikas, said she knows "times are tough and money is short.
"But just in case there's a little money out there," she requested that the Bloomfield community's roads get paved for the first time in several decades.
"We very much appreciate Kevin coming out and reaching out to the community," Friedman said after the meeting. "It's nice knowing they care."
The time and location of the next Coffee with Kevin meeting had not been determined as of Wednesday afternoon.