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In annual talk, Gary sounds upbeat note


County Executive John G. Gary got a chance to brag yesterday during his annual State of the County address, touting two years of programs large and small before an audience of old friends and political supporters.

The hourlong speech to the Anne Arundel Trade Council, often described as Gary's kitchen cabinet, came the day before his second anniversary in office. And the timing was fortuitous for a pro-business politician addressing a roomful of business people concerned about government costs.

Just days earlier, Gary, a Republican, won approval for his pension reform bill, "landmark legislation" that will save the county $3 million a year, according to county officials. He thanked the County Council for approving the measure, he thanked his staff, and he patted himself on the back after five months of a tough sell.

"I promised you I would deliver services at a price you could afford," Gary told the roughly 75 audience members gathered for breakfast at Old South Country Club in Lothian. "I'm living up to my promise, but it hasn't been easy."

Except for a few anti-media riffs -- "I have to blow my own horn because nobody else is going to" -- Gary offered a drumbeat of successful policy prescriptions that, taken together, comprise the Gary doctrine: modest, helpful government on the cheap.

He highlighted his administration's responses to community concerns, from a $25,000 program to help low-income seniors pay for medicine to additional stoplights at busy intersections to a series of personnel measures trimming Anne Arundel's payroll.

He joked about the high price of two major capital projects -- the County Courthouse and the Glen Burnie Detention Center -- that together cost more than $90 million.

"Most county executives would have to build one every 200 years," he said. "I've got both during my term."

Pension reform might be the capstone of Gary's cost-cutting agenda.

But he discussed other achievements of his administration, such as adding land to county parks, turning over a government building to Anne Arundel Community College, hiring 41 police officers, outfitting ambulances with defibrillators that have saved nine lives during his tenure, and supervising a welfare program that the federal government is studying as a national model.

For business, Gary said he has eliminated the property tax on equipment used in research and development, which could save local industry $2.2 million over five years.

Gary said the county economy grew by 5,000 jobs during his first year in office, a 3.2 percent growth rate, according to the most recent state labor statistics. Commercial construction has doubled in the past two years.

Michael S. Lofton, executive director of Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., introduced executives from 10 companies that have moved into Anne Arundel this year, bringing more than 1,500 jobs.

Said Arthur Thomas, who with the help of a $27,000 incentive loan will open Footlongs 'n' More on West Street next month, "When I was a kid, we had black-owned business all over West Street. Now we want to be a role model."

Pub Date: 12/05/96

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