Nine days into his first term, County Executive Robert R. Neall stood before 300 business people, delivering a few unpleasant facts.

County income has declined. So has federal and state aid to counties.

Demand for services has increased. So have unemployment and the cost of refilling county vehicles' gasoline tanks.

"The recession is having an effect on Anne Arundel County," Neall said yesterday during the Anne Arundel Trade Council's annual county executive breakfast. "We are left to our own devices, to paddle our canoe with no one to bail us out."

Arundel's books remain in the black, unlike those in deficit-ridden Montgomery, Prince George's and Howard counties, and yesterday Neall proposed spending cuts and a hiring freeze to protect that fiscal health.

He has promised to build a recession-proof economy and develop the state's most aggressive economic development program. But yesterday, during his first address to a business group, Neall fell short on specifics for his development plans.

Instead, Neall said, he will wait for his transition team's recommendations before making a joint proposal with the business community -- sometime between now and July.

A Neall transition team committee that is reviewing the executive branch, including the economic development office, will deliver recommendations by March, said Jeannette Wessel, committee chairwoman and Trade Council executive vice president.

If Neall makes policy or personnel changes, he most likely will make them gradually, Wessel said.

Structural changes most likely will include privatizing some functions of government, Neall has said, to save taxpayers' money and expand the tax base.

"People are anxious to see the direction he'll take, but he has to get the advice of people he asked to do those tasks," Wessel said.

And that, some business leaders said, is as it should be.

"He's got to give his transition team the opportunity to deliver information on what is, before he can get a handle on what has to be," said Art Ebersberger, trade council board member.

The new executive already has sent the business community a strong message of support by announcing plans yesterday to freeze county hiring and cut spending, said S. Robert Kaufman, chairman of the Trade Council's economic development committee.

"It shows that he's a decisive leader who's competent and sees to it that the climate is right for business," Kaufman said. "Too many governments think you have to do something to make business work. You have to make government work. It's more important for the business community to have a stable, balanced economic environment."

Samuel F. Minnitte, county Economic Development director, said he expects his office to play a more aggressive role under Neall's leadership.

"Bob has given Sam a blank check in terms of access to him and use of him to promote the county," said David Almy, Neall's deputy chief of staff.

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