Before County Executive Elizabeth Bobo (D) was elected, there was no Dale Jackson in the county government.

Bobo appointed Jackson in 1988 to become the county's first day-care coordinator. The county executive said a coordinator was needed in part to help parents identify day-care choices so "they can be more productive employees."

But to Charles I. Ecker, Bobo's Republican challenger in this year's county executive race, Jackson personifies what he calls the "something-for-everyone" budgets Bobo has pushed through since assuming office in December 1986.

"Certainly, we need day care and I think the county has some responsibility for coordination between the private and public sectors. But I believe we could have found someone already in government for that job. We didn't have to add another position," Ecker said.

Jackson is one of about 360 employees added to the county payroll since June 1986. An additional 140 positions have been authorized but remain unfilled, according to county statistics.

All told, the county work force is authorized to grow to 1,902 people this year, a 36 percent increase since the 1987 fiscal year.

The rate of growth in the work force has easily outpaced the nearly 19 percent growth in the county's population during the same period. About 190,000 people live in the county now.

The size of the county's work force has grown slightly faster than the school work force during those same years. Money is available for 3,834 school workers this year, a 29.6 percent increase since the 1987 fiscal year.

Funding for education makes up more than half of the county's $286.4 million operating budget. The county's operating budget has grown by more than 88 percent since fiscal 1987.

Ecker said the county has been able to pay for its expanding work force by capitalizing on rising property assessments. He said the county could be in trouble maintaining that work force if the economy slows down and revenue dwindles.

"It's like paying for a car without a motor," Ecker said.

Bobo defends the county's staffing levels. She said the county government has had to increase staff to catch up with the county's rapid growth and satisfy the public's appetite for new services.

A day-care coordinator is just one example. Bobo said there's also been a demand in the county for curb-side recycling services. About 40 percent of the county's homes receive free curb-side pickup of newspapers, aluminum and glass for recycling. Other residents can bring recycled materials to trucks that park regularly at different locations around the county.

Bobo's efforts to manage growth have required that she increase the number of planners and inspectors watching over developers. And before long, the county expects to hire a person to coordinate drug-abuse prevention efforts among the police department, courts, schools and health department.

Bobo is aware that the economic downturn hitting the region could force county officials to tighten their belts next year. That's one reason she announced last week the establishment of a panel to review county spending.

Bobo said she created the panel without regard to Ecker, who had proposed the establishment of a similar committee earlier this year. She said the idea was a natural follow-up to a committee she created four years earlier to study county borrowing limits.

Bobo also questioned whether Ecker would have managed the size of government any better. She notes that while he was a school administrator he consistently argued for the school administration's budget request -- a position Ecker said he was forced to take as a school employee who answered to the superintendent.

She also said Ecker has talked much about cutting the budget but has offered few examples of where he would make cuts.

"Now he's offered one example, the day-care coordinator. I would not cut that one employee out . . . . She has more than paid for herself" in identifying day-care opportunities and providing other assistance, Bobo said.

Jackson, the day-care coordinator, defended her position. She has helped establish new child-care training programs for day-care workers, and has served as a point person for the county in day-care matters, working with other day-care coordinators throughout the state, she said.

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES, POPULATION AND BUDGET

PEOPLE.....................FISCAL '87....FISCAL '91....PERCENT CHANGE

Education Employees.............2,957.........3,834.............29.62

County Employees................1,399.........1,902.............35.96

Other Employees...................450...........528.............17.32

County Population.............159,897.......190,000.............18.83

BUDGET

Education.................$78,538,460..$140,467,110.............78.85

Education Debt Service.....$2,581,075....$9,262,700............258.87

College....................$3,304,520....$7,086,000............114.43

College Debt Service.........$564,235....$1,073,190.............90.20

Education Subtotal........$84,988,290..$157,889,000.............85.78

Police....................$10,822,520...$20,833,080.............92.50

Fire.......................$1,563,110....$1,859,260.............18.95

Corrections................$2,345,800....$4,270,700.............82.06

Public Works/Inspections..$18,088,835...$26,775,650.............48.02

Human Services.............$7,657,350...$16,398,730............114.16

Recreation & Parks.........$3,047,135....$6,013,880.............97.36

General Government.........$7,903,175...$22,680,380............186.98

Legislative/Judicial.......$4,388,340....$8,109,630.............84.80

Pay-As-You-Go Projects.....$1,379,000....$4,704,000............241.12

Debt Service...............$9,156,115...$15,676,610.............71.21

Other........................$936,830....$1,230,320.............31.33

TOTAL....................$152,276,500..$286,441,240.............88.11

SOURCE: Howard County Government