Budget Administrator Raymond S. Wacks, one of the longest serving and most respected administrators in Howard County government, is retiring from his post and taking a similar job in Baltimore City, where he will oversee an annual budget more than double in size.
Wacks, 57, will become chief of the Bureau of Budget and Management Research, overseeing Baltimore's $2.1 billion annual budget, on March 2. His last day at his Howard job is Feb. 28. He joked this week that next month, "I'll be worried about two budgets."
Budget Administrator Raymond S. Wacks is among the county's most respected officials.
(Howard County Photo)
At a point in his career when Wacks could have contemplated a comfortable retirement, he applied for a big-city budget job.
"As hard as it is to believe, I think budgets are exciting," he said. "They are the essence of what makes government work. The opportunity to go to a place like Baltimore City is a good challenge for me."
Wacks was hired as an administrative assistant in the Howard budget office making $12,000 a year in 1974. Three years later, at age 30, he was named budget administrator by former County Executive Edward Cochran. He'll leave his Howard post earning a salary of $112,400.
During his tenure, Wacks has seen Howard's budget expand from $40 million to $968 million. Throughout Democratic and Republican administrations, he has maintained a reputation as a nonpartisan professional.
"I've always viewed my job as presenting complete and correct information to the policymakers so they can make reasonable decisions," he said.
Republicans and Democrats alike praised him for his impartiality.
"I have deep respect for him, first as a human being and as a professional. He's very knowledgeable, professional, easy to work with and very straight forward," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Democrat who served as county executive in the late 1980s.
County Council member Christopher J. Merdon (R-Northeast County) called Wacks's impending departure a "tremendous loss for Howard County" because of his deep institutional knowledge of the budgeting process.
"He had a good sense of where our [revenue] projections would come in," Merdon said. "He was always conservative in his estimates, even in good times."
With the second highest median household income in the nation, Howard's budget issues are hardly comparable to those in Baltimore City, which confronts a host of urban ills such as poverty, crime and struggling schools. Still, in recent years, Howard had to find ways to trim departmental budgets and enact tax increases, especially to keep pace with a rapid school construction schedule.
Wacks's departure comes as County Executive James N. Robey is preparing the budget for fiscal 2006. Assistant Budget Director Gail Benson will take over as interim director until a replacement for Wacks is named.
Raquel Guillory, spokeswoman for Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, said Wacks was one of dozens considered for the post, but "he was heads and tails above the next closest on a strong list of applicants."
O'Malley, who is expected to seek the Democratic nomination to run for governor in 2006, is decidedly more political than Wacks's current boss, but Bobo predicted the relationship between O'Malley and Wacks "will work out great for both of them."
"He does what his boss wants him to do, so he has presented many different financial approaches during the years because there has been quite a variation among county executives," Bobo said. Wacks has worked for all seven Howard County executives.
Wacks grew up in the Washington suburbs and graduated from Towson University in 1969. After graduation, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Jamaica, then returned to Baltimore, where he taught sixth grade for a year at a public school in the early 1970s. In 1973, he earned a master's degree in public administration from American University.
Wacks will begin drawing his county pension in addition to receiving a salary in Baltimore of $115,000. He becomes the second longtime Howard administrator in two years to leave for a similar post in another jurisdiction. In 2003, Joseph W. Rutter, the planning and zoning director, retired from Howard and became planning and zoning officer for Anne Arundel County.