Claiming that his actions will "change the face of Baltimore County government forever," County Executive Roger B. Hayden yesterday ordered a sweeping reduction in county services, including the immediate closing of nine libraries, four senior centers, and two health centers.
As many as 392 employees will lose their jobs as the county pulls back from a decentralized, neighborhood approach to government it developed during the 1980s.
Altogether, Mr. Hayden said, 566 positions -- about 6 percent of the work force -- will be eliminated immediately.
But some of those positions are unfilled, and some employees whose positions are chopped may be able to retire or eligible to bump into other positions. That makes the exact number of layoffs uncertain.
The cuts will save only $1.1 million during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, Mr. Hayden said. But they are projected to save $14.3 million next year.
Laid-off workers will receive from two to nine weeks of pay, depending on seniority, plus any vacation they have accrued.
Health insurance will continue until leave and vacation time expire.
The first and most prominent official fired was Chuck Jackson, Mr. Hayden's press spokesman, who came to work for the county in July. The executive declined to discuss that move.
No firefighters or police were laid off, though nine civilian police jobs, two of which are filled, were cut. The Police Department will get a new recruit class and 33 new civilian jobs next year.
The executive said he targeted facilities and programs that were duplicates of others, were underused or had substitutes close by.
But to residents affected by the closings, close by is a relative term. In Turners Station, a historic black community in Dundalk, residents were upset at the loss of their library and possible loss of their recreation center.
"We have a lot of kids who need to get off the streets and come here to read and open up their world," said Mamie Simms, a retiree who volunteers at the library.
Closure of the flat-roofed, cinder-block library will mean kids such as Michelle Dickerson, 11, and her sister Shanntel, 12 1/2 , will have to take the bus to the North Point Library, about four miles and one transfer away. "I like coming here, and it's the only place for me to come and do my homework," said Michelle.
"And we can walk here."
Altogether, nine community libraries will be closed as the library system loses 38 full-time and 67 part-time jobs.
The targeted branches will cease lending books immediately but will be open for book returns for three weeks.
The jobs of nine recreation supervisors will be abolished, and the county will seek a private operator for the Dundalk Aquatic Center, which houses the only county operated indoor swimming pool.
Wayne R. Harman, county recreation and parks director, said the decision to privatize the Dundalk center was made because "we never were able to generate enough revenue to pay for the
chemicals we used in the pool," which cost about $80,000 a year.
Mr. Harman said there is no specific timetable for the changeover. "But we hope to do it as soon as possible. Until then, the recreational programs will continue."
The Loch Raven community was also hard hit, losing both a full-size library branch and a senior center.
"It's like being evicted," said Elmer Gillis, who is confined to a wheelchair but still manages to be a regular at Loch Raven senior facility.
The Arbutus, West Liberty and Dundalk senior centers also will close.
Overall, the Department of Aging will cut 31 full and part-time people from its staff of 169, saving the county about $482,850 a year on an annual budget of about $8 million.
The county provides about $3 million of that sum, with the rest coming from federal and state grants, and donations.
The Loch Raven center has more than 300 registered members, and as many as 70 people use the facility on a heavy day.
"It's a dirty, rotten shame," said Loch Raven regular Gloria Dietz. "Many of these senior citizens live in apartments near here and walk here."
Even so, Towson Councilman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th, defended Mr. Hayden's actions, saying the executive was forced to make harsh cuts because the County Council would not support any more general tax increases.
"We can debate now on whether he or we have gone too far," Mr. Riley said.
Dundalk's councilman, Donald C. Mason, D-7th, the council's biggest advocate of cutting government, said he would not vote to increase the local share of state income taxes to get back the public services cut in his district.
Mr. Hayden said an increase in the local piggyback income tax would not produce enough money to forestall his actions, anyway. He blamed the cuts on a cumulative $80 million reduction in state aid over the last three years, and on what he termed "massive uncontrolled spending during the 1980s."