Neall Woos Builders With Privatization Plan

April 23, 1992|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff writer

County Executive Robert R. Neall likely will have Anne Arundel home builders in his camp when he unveils the more controversial cost-cutting proposals in his 1993 budget.

The executive looked for supporters Tuesday evening among members of the county chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, who met at Michael's Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie.

Neall asked builders to back him on privatizing some work now done by county employees, setting aside a $10 million rainy day fund to shield against future recessions and merging administrative tasks within the government.

The home builders will wait for the budget's May 1 release before taking specific positions, said chapter presidentMilt Horn.

But he added, "Any proposal that would eliminate government waste, we'd highly support. We support his plan to cut costs and to make the government more efficient."

With the economy expected to grow more slowly this decade than last, Neall has proposed reducing the county work force by 10 percent over the next three years.

He might do that, for instance, by hiring private process-servers todeliver summonses, rather than relying on sheriff's deputies, or by having private companies -- instead of county employees -- maintain the grounds at county parks and buildings, Neall told the group.

Another option might be to merge three separate print shops now servingcounty offices, the school board and Anne Arundel Community College,he said.

While such restructuring would require fewer county workers, it also would pump more jobs into the local, heavily service-based economy, said Horn.

"It's not a loss if you put work into the local economy," he said. "Then you'll be creating jobs outside government normally taken by government employees."

In Neall's attempt tocut costs by contracting out more work, the executive has run into opposition from labor unions representing hundreds of blue-collar, clerical and technical workers. Contract negotiations between the countyand two locals of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees ground to a halt after the county asked members to give up protective contract language that allows privatization only as asupplement to the county work force. Neall said he is currently prohibited from contracting services if it costs county workers their jobs.

"Those unions will face the County Council," Neall told the home builders, whom he urged to testify in support of privatization. "Ifthe unions can get four votes (on the council) to keep the contract language in, I can't be innovative and I can't cut costs."

Labor unions also oppose Neall's plan to set up a $10 million rainy day fund, which would draw entirely from property tax revenues from BaltimoreGas and Electric Co.'s Brandon Shores power plant. Union leaders argue that this is not the time to set up the fund, with money for employee salaries so tight.

Neall told home builders Tuesday that such a controversial proposal, opposed by unions and tax protesters, is "not for the politically faint-of-heart. But if we have the discipline to do it once, Anne Arundel will be protected against the next recession."

He added that such a fund would eliminate the need to ask for wage concessions.

Horn said he'd like to know more about the fund, but he supports the concept.

"To help beat some of the tougher times, because of the way the state controls so much of the county budget, to have that in there to even out the ups and downs is not a bad idea," he said.

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