Help wanted in Baltimore County

September 02, 1992

As Baltimore County downsizes programs for lack of cash, more private citizens will be pressed to volunteer labor that county employees used to provide. A recent example of this trend is the plan by the county's Department of Aging to reduce the paid staff at senior centers and pick up the slack with volunteers. After a six-month tryout at the Catonsville center, the proposal might be implemented at the county's 20 other senior facilities.

If adopted county-wide, the plan could necessitate recruiting dozens of volunteers. But questions beg: Could such a large army of volunteers be found? And could they approach the quality of service offered by paid staffers?

County service cuts will create problems also for the organizers of the Towson Arts Festival and the Towsontown Spring Festival. Security, equipment and labor for those popular annual events had been provided free by the county. However, budget restraints have forced the county to begin billing the organizers for those services -- worth about $1,000 for the Towson Arts Festival and about $20,000 for the Towsontown Spring Festival.

Yet the shows must go on. To help defray the costs, the organizers will search for volunteers to handle many of the chores formerly done by county workers at overtime pay. In addition, the organizers will have to dip into their own coffers to stage the festivals, thus siphoning money from local landscaping, historical surveying and scholarship programs that benefit from the events' proceeds.

Further evidence of government-by-volunteer can be found at the county's weekly recycling centers, which are run primarily by unpaid citizens. Some 400 burned-out recycling volunteers met with County Executive Roger B. Hayden late last year to demand curbside recycling throughout the county. Running the centers long-term is simply too big a job for a bunch of weekend do-gooders, they told Mr. Hayden. The executive, though sympathetic, cited the tight economy and said, "Government can't be all things to all people."

By necessity, that has become Mr. Hayden's mantra, with the county reeling from last year's drastic shortfall in state aid and bracing for another massive cut. Some familiar services will be scrapped; some will survive only with unpaid workers. After all, if Maryland students will have to perform community service, their elders should be willing to pitch in too. As volunteers are needed, the Hayden administration would do well to recruit them with an aggressive yet high-minded appeal to the altruism inherent in most Americans -- not a soft-soap campaign but a sincere effort to impress citizens that there's a lot they can do to help themselves and their county through a tough time.

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