Meeting with all county department directors for the first time Wednesday, Commissioner-elect Elmer C. Lippy Jr. let them know what was foremost on his mind: the looming $2.5 million budget shortfall.

The newly elected Board of County Commissioners -- Democrat Lippy, 70, Republican Donald I. Dell, 65, and returning Republican Julia W. Gouge, 50 -- assume office tomorrow, less than a week after the departing board imposed a hiring freeze and asked agencies voluntarily to cut spending to compensate for the projected deficit.

The money troubles and uncertain economy all but guarantee that the two rookie commissioners will not have the luxury of easing into the job. That seems fitting, because this Board of Commissioners figures to be busier over the next four years than any prior board.

Lippy and Dell met with the 12 department directors and the executive assistant to the commissioners -- known as the Administrative Council -- for an orientation session last week to discuss their concerns and learn about projects in the works. Gouge did not attend because of illness.

The commissioners were briefed on issues they will soon confront, including: * The Department of Natural Resource Protection's investigation into providing a county trash collection service and curbside recycling.

* Planners' concerns that legislative recommendations from the Governor's Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region would infringe on the county's authority to regulate land use.

* The county's Strategic Planning Reports -- the first attempt at long-range planning for such issues as affordable housing, farmland preservation, infrastructure, police protection and emergency services. Few recommendations from the reports have been implemented.

They'll inherit a myriad of concerns from the outgoing administration: An ambitious school construction program has just begun; spending-per-student ranks near the bottom of the state; major infrastructure projects, such as the proposed Gillis Falls Reservoir and the Freedom Waste Water Treatment Plant expansion, are at early stages of development; and reliance on volunteer fire companies and the State Resident Trooper program for the future has been questioned.

The board already has taken a major step to help ensure it will have the time to address monumental concerns as well as handle day-to-day business, deciding to convene for three official meeting days rather than the traditional two. The plan includes having at least one commissioner in the office on the two non-meeting days.

Several county agency directors said they expected the extra day in office to be a significant improvement.

"We've got a $160 million budget," said Public Works Director John T.

"Jack" Sterling Jr. "That's a big corporation. Let's face it, it has to be run like a corporation."

The newly elected commissioners each say they will work full time, even though the job officially is a part-time position. Lippy, a retired chemist, talked about eliminating the "country club atmosphere" during his campaign. Dell, a farmer, plans to leave that operation to his family.

Gouge, who doesn't have an outside job, said the time commitment promised from the other two will "ease the burden" she felt the last four years as the commissioner who spent the most days on the job.

Most observers expect the new commissioners to have a better working relationship and be generally more conciliatory than the outgoing board, which was sometimes characterized by stalemated disagreements, personality conflicts and signs of bitterness.

"It seems like the new administration will be closer in their beliefs," said Delegate Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, chairman of Carroll's delegation. "I think we'll see a quiet administration in the next four years. They're going to resolve things quicker and be less controversial.

There will be more compromising."

Superintendent of Schools R. Edward Shilling said he is "very optimistic" about the new board. Education administrators and the school board engaged in several battles over the last three years with the outgoing commissioners over the school budget and management practices of the agency.

"I'm looking forward to developing a new relationship of better cooperation, communication and understanding," said Shilling.

School board President T. Edward Lippy said he expects the new commissioner board to be true to its constituents.

"Carroll County is conservative, there's no way around it," he said. "I don't expect the new board to be much different. They were elected by the conservative elements in the county, and I think they'll support that philosophy."

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