County's future is on table Union leaders seek to avoid cuts

January 08, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

If nothing changes, Baltimore County's future could resemble the crime and decline occurring a few miles south of Towson in Baltimore, said Ed Veit, president of the Teacher's Association of Baltimore County.

Mr. Veit gave his warning yesterday at a meeting between

county labor union leaders and Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the new County Council chairman. The group's discussion centered on deciding how to influence the decisions County Executive Roger B. Hayden will have to make as he prepares $31.7 million worth of permanent budget cuts.

"I can predict the future," said an angry Mr. Veit. "People are voting with their feet by moving to Pennsylvania, Carroll and Harford counties."

The remedy, Mr. Veit said, is not shaving a few cents off the county's property tax rate, or keeping the county piggyback income tax rate lower than its authorized maximum of 60 percent of the state levy. He suggested collecting tolls on Interstate 83 at the Pennsylvania state line from Pennsylvanians who work in Baltimore County, and using the money to improve education and other public services. That would be better than cutting services, he said.

His list of eight ways to save money includes closing Sparrows Point High School, which is Mr. Hayden's alma mater and has one of the lowest enrollments of county high schools.

Though Mr. Veit apologized to Mr. Ruppersberger for "venting," his anger and bitterness are indicative of the anxious mood among county workers. Many feel they are paying for the political pressure against raising taxes by enduring layoffs, furloughs and hiring freezes.

As the time draws near for the anticipated layoffs and elimination of "good and useful" county government programs, labor leaders have become more vocal. The county Fraternal Order of Police lodge is running radio ads stating its displeasure over police manpower cuts in light of rising crime.

And union discontent remains high over Mr. Hayden's unwillingness to share his options for cuts and his determination to keep his ideas secret until he announces them in a few weeks.

Mr. Ruppersberger, who became council chairman Jan. 4, said he was worried Mr. Hayden might interpret his efforts as an attempt to undermine the executive's relations with labor groups, or worse, as a political gambit in a possible run for the county's top job in 1994. Mr. Ruppersberger said he hopes the meetings will help head off bad feeling and low morale among county workers, and produce suggestions to help Mr. Hayden make constructive budget cuts.

During the meeting and afterward, Mr. Ruppersberger repeatedly said he has briefed Mr. Hayden on his actions. In his acceptance speech at Monday night's council meeting, he also said he wants to be involved in deciding the course of county government rather than reacting to Mr. Hayden's decisions.

Late yesterday, Mr. Hayden said he doesn't "have any problems" with the meeting and added that he has personally asked labor leaders for their budget-cutting suggestions.

The suggestions offered by Mr. Veit, other union leaders and Mr. Ruppersberger include:

* Creating a private, Chamber of Commerce-sponsored clearing house for off-duty county police to get private policing jobs paid for by businesses that want more protection.

* Training county blue-collar workers to handle jobs in any county department, instead of working only for public works or only for recreation and parks.

* Moving adult education programs out of the public schools and placing them under the auspices community colleges.

* Closing schools with low enrollments.

* Consolidating services duplicated by schools and social services workers.

* Hiring a private company to do county legal services and to promote economic development and tourism.

* Creating one central maintenance garage to serve police, fire, schools and other county agencies.

Union leaders representing county police, nurses, white and blue-collar workers, firefighters and teachers agreed to return on Jan. 15 with a list of suggestions Mr. Ruppersberger can take to Mr. Hayden.

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