Surplus, communications create governmental rift


Estranged County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann and County Council members are still talking - but whether they continue to do so may depend on the outcome of Tuesday's council meeting.

A sticky budget question and Rehrmann's decision to keep council members from talking directly with department directors have had council members and the executive on edge for the past two weeks.

Rehrmann's proposal to kill several construction projects including a $500,000 animal shelter - continues to be the biggest source of disagreement, council members said last week.

The executive has asked the council to shift $917,960 from canceled, completed or delayed construction projects into the county's general operating budget. A vote is scheduled for Tuesday.

The money transfer is part of Rehrmann's effort to build a $7 million surplus by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, to preserve the county's bond rating - and potentially save local government money when it has to borrow.

But during last Tuesday's council meeting, President Jeffrey D. Wilson accused Rehrmann of playing "a shell game" by trying to artificially create a large balance. Previous surpluses have been the result of the county taking in more money than expected, said Wilson, vowing to oppose the measure.

By Friday, Rehrmann was meeting with small groups of the seven council members in an effort to iron out differences over the budget and communication issues.

So far, public debates over the budget issue at two council meetings have focused on a $500,000 animal shelter, which the County Humane Society would wants transferred.

But council members say the shelter is not the real issue.

"I don't think anyone from the council wants to preserve the $500,000," said Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C.

Transferring money from construction projects "is very different than anything this county has ever done," she said. "We're going to create a separate fund the council can't touch, and it's going to give us an extra quarter percent on our bond rating?"

Pierno said the disagreements with Rehrmann have been "a back and forth" that she "has not seen interfere with getting results. If there's friction, it means the system's working."

Another part of that "back and forth" was Wilson's statement at Tuesday's meeting that Rehrmann doesn't understand the purpose of the surplus.

On the issue of council members having direct access to county department heads, Councilman Barry T. Glassman, R-District C, said he and Rehrmann will meet this week at her suggestion. And he and Councilman Robert Wagner, R-District E, have agreed to postpone introducing a resolution demanding direct access to the department heads.

Glassman said the problem with Rehrmann's policy is that working through an intermediary, as she insists, has slowed getting results or immediate answers for constituents.

Glassman also said he wasn't sure how he'd vote on the budget issue.

"I don't agree we need $7.5 million to protect the bond rating," he said. "I don't buy that at all. We're about the only county that's going to come out in the black."

He denied, however, that the council's relations with the executive are strained.

"Relations with the executive are not yet strained. You could say they are warming up," Glassman said. "But if Bill No. 91-4 (the $917,960 transfer) doesn't get passed, they are going to get strained."

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