The '70s have been good to Montgomery County, in the eyes of County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist.
Despite ever-rising taxes and housing prices, Gilchrist says he feels the county as a whole has prospered -- a trend he hopes will continue in the '80s.
"We have a strong community and a strong economy," Gilchrist said of a county that boasts a well-educated, civic-minded population with a 1979 estimated family median income of $29,600, one of the nation's highest.
During the 1970s Montgomery's population has grown from 522,000 to an estimated 593,000.
"We became more self-sufficient in the '70s," says Gilchrist, citing the increasing number of people who work as well as live in the county.
Montgomery County Planning Commission figures show that 57.8 percent of employed county residents worked in the county in 1977, up from 45 percent in 1960 and 53 percent in 1970.
Gilchirst attributes this trend to careful land-use planning that, he says, paved the way for corporate facilities and houses to spring up along Route I -- 270 in the northern part of the county.
"As energy becomes more and more costly, we will benefit from the planning of the '70s," Gilchrist said.
While Gilchrist hailed the beginnings of the subway system as a major achievement of the decade, completing Metro, he said, is one of the major goals for the '80s.
Gilchrist points with pride to the county-operated Ride-On bus system. "It's phenomenally successful. It's carried 900,000 passengers and will reach its millionth this month."
But while Gilchrist praised the "quality of life" he feels makes Montgomery County an attractive place to live, he acknowledged inflation's impact on housing prices and the competition for houses for both investment and shelter. The cost of housing, he noted, makes home buying especially difficult for young people.
A sewer crisis halted building several times during the '70s.
"Housing has been a problem throughout the '70s and it is an acute problem now," Gilchrist said.
Part of the solution, he hopes, will come from a package of condominium legislation he has sent to Annapolis. The bills are intended to put the brakes on the rapid rate at which apartments are being converted to condominiums in Montgomery County, another '70s phenomenon.
Of the county's 50,000 multiple dwelling units, since 1970 an estimated 10,000 have been or are in the process of being converted to condos.
"The severe drop in school enrollment and the tendency of the population to age is of some concern," Gilchrist said. "We would like to attract a vital young population." He noted, however, that older people contribute stability and knowledge to a community.
Gilchrist says he is pleased with the increase in blacks, Hispanos and Asians.
"But there are obvious problems," Gilchrist added. He admits the county has not solved its racial conflicts. Recent studies found racial bias persists in most aspects of Montgomery County life.
"But we've done a good job. We are clearly committed to equal-opportunity employment," he said. "We now have a minority-affairs coordinator, a human-relations commission and a successful equal-opportunity housing program." h
But like his Prince George's County counterpart, Gilchrist wants to see the size of county government trimmed in the '80s.
"During the '70s, government grew too fast. During the '80s that will taper off. I think there's an improvement in government services but the growth in county employes has outstepped the need," he said. Gilchrist is in the process of reorganizing agencies with an eye to reducing the number of county employes.
Gilchrist says he is pleased with the county's good reputation but is somewhat worried about Montgomery's "rich" image, especially when it prompts politicians to look askance at Montgomery bids for a state and federal aid.
"Montgomery County is affluent not because of rich people, but because we have average citizens who are comfortable," he asked.
"There is an image that all of Montgomery County is Potomac with rolling countryside and split-rail fences, when we're really a community like any other, with people who suffer from the burden of inflation. That's something we have to be careful about."