High Expectations in Harford


When County Executive-elect Eileen M. Rehrmann and the new Harford County Council take office Monday, their most difficult job is to live up to the voters' expectations. Those expectations are high -- not only because of campaign promises made by the candidates but also because voters thought they sent an unmistakable message last month by dumping so many incumbents.

In succeeding Habern W. Freeman Jr. -- who is going to Annapolis as a senator -- Mrs. Rehrmann has a particularly tough act to follow. In his eight years as county executive, Mr. Freeman turned Harford from a fiscal basket case into a conservatively managed generator of predictable surpluses. With the state and localities sliding into recession, it will be nearly impossible for Mrs. Rehrmann to duplicate such a record. Yes, she was an impressive state legislator. But her effectiveness in Annapolis is now clouded by Gov. William Donald Schaefer's preoccupation with his own fiscal problems and the large number of newcomers in the county's legislative delegation with little allegiance to her.

In Bel Air, the Democratic executive is likely to have similar troubles with an assertive council. Four of the seven council members are novices, five are Republicans. Whether new or not, many council members have greater political ambitions and will want to see their names in headlines. Since all the executive's nominations for county department heads require council confirmation, early appointments should gauge the temperament of the Republican-controlled council.

Harford County faces some difficult decisions in the coming years. Past control measures have been quite successful in channeling growth to Bel Air and to the so-called development envelope along the I-95 corridor. While those measures did not produce the livable communities people expected, they heightened public awareness of urban sprawl. In their verdict at the polls in the September primary and again Nov. 6, voters forcefully declared their demand for even better planning and development controls.

In most cases, it is too late to overhaul what already has been done but it is not too late to prevent past mistakes from being repeated. This is why Harford County urgently needs an adequate facilities law and an implementation plan.

Fortunately, the county's new elected officials do not have to begin from square one. Much thinking has already been done about future development goals and implementation. Some of it is general, some is detailed, including Council President Jeffrey Wilson's idea of creating new villages as growth points. Bringing the various proposals to fruition will put to the test Harford County's new leadership.

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