Harford executive sees need for conservative budgeting; Harkins points to large capital debt, small surplus


Harford County Executive James M. Harkins delivered his first state of the county address last night, sounding the need for careful planning to assure the county's future fiscal health.

Harkins, who in November was elected as the county's first Republican executive, told members of the County Council that while the state of the county is strong, officials need to pay close attention to spending in their departments.

"Today, I am a conservative who has inherited a large capital debt and a small surplus," Harkins said. "The numbers I see call for careful and conservative budgeting."

In his initial months on the job, Harkins said, he has been working to "build a new sense of unity among all the elements of Harford County government," focusing on his goals of protecting open space, fighting neighborhood crime and improving services.

"In the last couple of years, a strong economy pumped lots of extra dollars into our treasury," Harkins said. "We do not expect a boom year for revenue this year. And yet we must continue to meet citizens' needs."

In his address, Harkins also touched on several subjects that stirred debate before and after his campaign, which hinged on the issue of growth. During the campaign, he had been labeled pro-development.

Harkins said his administration would work to preserve open space, assist farmers and plan better communities.

"We need to connect our neighborhoods not just with miles of asphalt, but with a 'green infrastructure' of sidewalks, bike paths, parks and ball fields," Harkins said. "Our citizens don't want more of the same."

Harkins also spoke about the county's Higher Education and Applied Technology (HEAT) Center.

Harford Community College, which manages the center -- built to forge links among Aberdeen Proving Ground, business and higher education -- recently came under fire for allegedly failing to attract clients and spending lavishly while other needs went unmet.

Harkins said his administration was working closely with HEAT and APG to capitalize on the county's technological resources and pursue new business opportunities. A new position has been created in the county's Office of Economic Development to strengthen those relationships, and negotiations are being conducted with the federal government to open the military base's Phillips Air Field for business use, Harkins said.

County Council President Gunther Hirsch, a Democrat, gave his legislative response last night and pledged to work closely with other county officials on matters such as the school budget and growth.

Hirsch thanked the public for its support and, smiling, issued a challenge that paraphrased the inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy: "Ask not what Harford County can do for you, ask what you can do for Harford County."

Pub Date: 2/10/99

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