Eileen M. Rehrmann deserves re-election as Harford County executive, after four years of effective political leadership and prudent fiscal management in the face of shrinking state aid and a slowing economy.
The county has emerged better prepared to manage new waves of growth as a result of her cautious yet foresighted stewardship.
Despite a lack of executive experience, Mrs. Rehrmann, a
Democrat, pulled together a team to steer the changing county through a difficult passage of population explosion, decelerating revenues and pent-up demand for unmet public services. Harford has been one of the state's business success stories during her term.
The county's credit rating has climbed to the top. The budget has been balanced with an annual surplus that has come in handy for contingencies. Needed water and sewer improvements are in place for now and the next generation. New schools are being built to meet expanding student populations, older buildings have been modernized.
Mrs. Rehrmann implemented growth management controls such as Adequate Public Facilities laws, which limit development to the capacities of schools, roads, and water and sewer systems. A rural plan to preserve farmland was initiated, and long-delayed countywide recycling was launched.
These achievements were not without pain and missteps. Mrs. Rehrmann delayed county and school employee pay raises in the first two years of her term, and drafted a zero-increase budget her first year. She has consistently underestimated county revenues, and held out a 5 percent reserve from the budget instead of spending on current needs.
But the property tax rate did not rise, the piggyback income tax did not increase. And county workers were not laid off, as was common elsewhere. The county's 1 percent real estate transfer tax, to buy farm easements and build schools, was soundly endorsed by public referendum.
Ronald M. Szczybor, the Republican challenger in his first run for office, lacks a comprehensive plan and vision for Harford County. He raises some reasonable criticisms about finance, and has attacked Mrs. Rehrmann for political opportunism in government decisions. But Mr. Szczybor's own election opportunism seems the main reason behind his opposition to a non-political county police force.
We urge Mrs. Rehrmann to be more cooperative with the next County Council and with the next sheriff to smooth the functioning of Harford County government. And we strongly urge voters to re-elect her as county executive.