Neall Sees Consolidation As Another Way To Save

January 19, 1992|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE — that is County Executive Robert R. Neall's latest strategy to save money.

Neall announced last week that work has begun on a plan to combine computing, warehousing, purchasing, insurance and other operations now being triplicated by the county government, public school system and Anne Arundel Community College. At his request, AACC President Tom Florestano, outgoing school Superintendent Larry L. Lorton andDennis Parkinson, the county's chief administrative officer, met forfour hours Tuesday to discuss 23 potential consolidation projects.

"We simply cannot do business the way we did before," said Florestano. "Everything on that list deserves a real hard look."

The county would save millions of dollars -- and eliminate several hundred jobs -- if it can combine even a portion of the 23 suggested operations, Parkinson said. Consolidating computer services alone probably would save between $500,000 and $1 million, he said.

The problem, he,Lorton and Florestano agree, is that any consolidation carries the threat of a turf battle.

Florestano said he's interested in reducing the number of public information workers -- the school system, college and various county department each have their own PR people. "ButI think it would be very turfy, and I think I'd be the first one bitching."

Public school officials historically have been leery of surrendering any independence to county government. Given the economic situation, however, "we have no choice but to explore these kinds of things," Lorton said.

"I'm very supportive of anything that's going to help stretch our dollars," said Lorton, who announced his resignation Thursday. "But I think there is always some suspicion that county government would reach its tentacles deeper into school board operations and inhibit the board from running the business they know better than anybody else."

Of the operations suggested for consolidation, insurance benefit plans and automated systems are top priority, Parkinson said.

AACC already is working with the county on a combined employee health insurance and benefit plan. The new plan, which will go into effect July 1, should not net any significant savings, Parkinson said, since AACC brings only 1,000 employees into it. But if the 6,000 to 7,000 school employees who now have their own insurance plan would join the 1,000 AACC and 2,800 county health subscribers, there could be major savings, he said.

The county will start lookingnext year at constructing an employee health insurance plan that canbe offered to all school, AACC and county workers without co-payment, Parkinson said. "We're looking for a rudimentary, basic plan that may not have all the whistles and bells on it," he said.

The complication is that a uniform health plan would require compromises from some health subscribers, Lorton noted. "Suppose the county has a $100 deductible on dental and we have $50. If you're going to have a uniform plan, who gives up what?"

Consolidating the three data centers that handle payroll, accounting and other financial operations is a priority for fiscal 1993, Parkinson said. The county wants to get rid of the school system's and community college's mainframe computers, expand the county's mainframe capacity and allow AACC and school boardto pay to use it.

The school board would receive a budget appropriation for computer services. The county would bill the board monthlyfor services. If, over time, the board felt it was not getting a good deal, it could simply stop paying and find another vendor, Parkinson said.

That arrangement could be used for a variety of shared operations, such as warehousing, printing and waste removal, he said.

The list of potential joint operations also includes legal assistance, automotive maintenance and repair, grounds and facility maintenance, custodial services, purchasing, telecommunications, recycling, snow removal, energy management, capital projects administration and economic development partnerships.

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