Dems, G.O.P. Fight Over Status Quo In Baltimore County Council Race

Democrat says current administration has done well in tough times …

By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

4:58 PM EDT, October 31, 2010

The election for an open Baltimore County Council seat in the east side’s District 6 that includes Middle River, Fullerton and Overlea has, in many respects, become a referendum on the status quo and the Democratic administration that has been in place for the past eight years.

Democrat Cathy A. Bevins, 51, of Middle River, was part of that administration, working for seven years in constituent service for County Executive James T. Smith Jr., and she said she would like to carry on Smith’s approach. She argues that Smith’s attention to redevelopment projects has served the east side well, and, under his leadership, the county has weathered difficult economic times better than many other cities and counties.

Smith can’t run again, having served the maximum two terms, and the district’s incumbent county councilman, Joseph Bartenfelder, did not run for re-election — instead seeking the Democratic nomination for county executive, which he lost to Kevin Kamenetz.

Republican Ryan Nawrocki, 27, of Rosedale is the newcomer in this campaign, arguing that the county could be looking for more ways to cut costs. He zeroes in on the pay, pensions and county cars for members of the County Council, a job that pays $54,000 a year and is usually considered part-time.

“We have council members who are overcompensated,” said Nawrocki, who works in public relations for LifeBridge Health and has said he will continue working full-time outside the council, as members usually do.

He said he would cut council pay and shift members to a retirement program similar to a 401(k), rather than the county pension system that was recently reformed to cap future council member pensions at 60 percent of their full salary. Previously, a council member who served five terms, as Vincent Gardina of District 5 has done, could retire with full pay.

Bevins, who has been working as an administrator for the Baltimore County Volunteer Firefighters Association, said she plans to work as a council member full-time.

“I’ve made that commitment, Ryan has not,” said Bevins. “I have experience in county government and he has not.”

She said she cannot see how the budget — which was approved in the spring with a 4.4 percent spending cut without diminishing services or employee ranks — could be significantly cut any further.

“Where would we cut it? Do you want to lay people off?” she said. “They’ve really trimmed that budget back as far as they can cut it.”

Nawrocki said he did not have specific cuts in mind, but he argues for bringing in an independent auditor to go through county departments looking for potential savings. He argues that the county’s work force is too large, insisting that some of those functions could be performed by private contractors.

According to figures compiled by the county auditor, there are now about 25,500 local government employees, including those working in schools, police and fire, community colleges, libraries, public works.

Nawrocki doesn’t say how many employees he thinks there should be, but he says the number far outstrips any single private employer, which suggests to him it’s too high, and is driving up taxes. The county’s largest private employer is Franklin Square Hospital Center, with 3,500 employees.

“I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with public sector employment,” said Nawrocki. But, he said, “when your local government is the largest single employer in the county, there’s potentially a problem there.”

Nawrocki said the tax burden could discourage businesses considering moving to the county, and he points out that the county unemployment rate is higher than any neighboring jurisdiction except for Baltimore City.

Bevins said many voters have shared their worries about jobs with her during the campaign, and she would like to see more robust business activity along Route 43 in White Marsh, which was planned as an economic hub. But she has backed off statements she made earlier in the campaign suggesting the Department of Economic Development should be doing more.

She said the White Marsh area is “doing what it was meant to do, but at a slower pace.” She said she felt the county is “doing all we can in this tough economic time. I don’t know what we could be doing differently.”

Copyright © 2010, The Baltimore Sun

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