Raymond S. Wacks, the slightly rumpled, friendly man who as budget director steered Howard County through three decades of financial highs, recessionary lows and political changes, is retiring. He will take a similar job in Baltimore City.
Wacks, a Pikesville resident, will become chief of the Bureau of Budget and Management Research, responsible for planning, development and monitoring Baltimore's $2.1 billion budget. He also will brief the city's Board of Estimates and the City Council. The job pays $115,000, a slight rise increase from his current salary.
"It's going to be a great opportunity for me," said Wacks, 58, who starts March 2. "I have a lot to learn and hope I'll have a lot to bring to them, too."
In fact, Wacks said, "I think it's good for Howard County that I'm leaving. A new person will bring different ideas."
But few county officials, current or past, agreed with that.
"Anytime you lose someone of Ray's caliber, it's not easy," said Howard County Executive James N. Robey, who is preparing the next budget.
Wacks "is extremely competent with budgets," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Democrat and former Howard County executive. "I've never seen anything like it, including at the state level. He's a consummate professional, and he is a wonderful human being."
Republicans also praised Wacks.
Charles I. Ecker, the Republican executive who thwarted Bobo's 1990 re-election bid, said Wacks "did a wonderful job. He was very reliable. You can trust him."
"We're going to miss him," said Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a western county Republican. "He's always been approachable."
When he began his Howard County career as a $12,000-a-year administrative assistant in July 1974, the county budget totaled $36 million. Former Executive Edward Cochran named Wacks budget director in 1977.
Wacks has seen annual county spending grow to more than $800 million, while the county added $100,000 to his salary.
After 30 years, Wacks is eligible for a pension of about $61,000 a year.
County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, said he would miss Wacks' sage advice, although there doesn't appear to be a fiscal crisis this year.
"The good news is, I have his home phone number."