The recurring question of how to control government growth was once again the central issue being debated by Democratic candidates for the Montgomery County executive's post as the primary race entered its final week yesterday.
State Sen. Charles Gilchrist was the candidate who raised the question again yesterday as he issued a statement pledging that, if elected, he would appoint a citizens' task force to help him reorganize county government and stop its "explosive" growth rate.
The proposal drew immediate criticism from Gilchrist's opponents. Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson and County Council member John Menke, as a last-minute effort to respond to a problem they had been discussing for weeks. The Primary election is next Tuesday.
"You mean he's running for county executive and he doesn't even know what he would do to stop government growth?" Hanson asked.
To begin with, Gilchrist said he would cut 10 positions from the 40-member county executive staff. Earlier, he said he would implement zero-based budgets and a six-year plan for public facilities. While supporting collective bargaining for public employes, he said he would allow reducing the work force by attrition.
Hanson said it was he, as chairman of the planning board, who instituted the zero-based budgeting and six-year public facilities plan that Gilchrist heralded.
In an 11-point budget program four weeks ago, Hanson said he would implement zero-based budgets throughout the government and require quarterly review of departmental expenditures against performance. While approving of collective bargaining, he said he would design a new county pay system basing salary increases on demonstrated improvements in productivity.
In July, Menke issued his 10-step budget plan that would impose a two-year hiring moratorium for county staff and a freeze on filling half the positions that become empty during the current fiscal year.
He also sponsored a county charter amendment for the November ballot to require five of the seven council members to approve annual operating budget increases greater than the yearly increase in the cost of living in the metropolitan area. Currently, four of seven council members must approve a budget.
Menke said he would also empanel a public budget advisory commission to provide formal "public input" to budget formulation.
Yesterday, Gilchrist also criticized the growth of the planning commission under Hanson, saying there is "no way to justify" Janson's assertion that economizing has resulted in tax reductions for citizens.
Since 1971, Gilchrist noted, the commission's budget has grown from $7.5 million to $21.6 million.
"The fact is," Hanson replied, "we did reduce our tax rate by more than 5 percent. That year (1971), the county as a whole got a 4-cent tax reduction - and 2 cents of that came from the planning commission, which has less than 4 percent of the entire county budget."
Since 1971, Hanson added, the number of county parks has grown "about 90 percent."
Meanwhile, Gilchrist issued a new poll conducted by his volunteers last week that he said showed him pulling ahead.
The latest figures in the random sampling of 328 primary voters weighted by previous turnouts in specific election districts put Gilchrist at 32 percent of the Democratic vote to Hanson's 24 per cent and Menke's 14 per cent, according to Gilchrist.
Hanson and Menke, who are not polling, said they did not believe the results. "It is easy to weight a poll to your favor, especially if it is conducted by your own volunteers," said Menke.
In addition, Hanson noted, the poll was conducted at the same time a new Gilchrist mailing of 54,000 brochures was reaching many voters' homes.