Baltimore Co. scrambles after loss of 392 workers One office forced to close for retraining

February 18, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

The layoffs announced by Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden last week produced such upheaval that the county's permit department had to close temporarily this week because there weren't enough experienced people to fill out the forms.

The cutbacks also left state officials wondering whom to call when a county agency with which they had a contract vanished in a puff of budget-cutting smoke.

And the county may be stuck -- at least temporarily -- paying $80,000 a year in rent on the storefront near Pikesville that housed a closed mini-library with a lease that doesn't expire until 1995.

The problems surfaced this week in the wake of Mr. Hayden's efforts to reduce the size of county government in an era of tight money and slow revenue growth. Some 392 workers lost their jobs. Nine libraries, four senior centers and a variety of other programs were cut.

So many workers at the county's Permits and Licenses application desk lost their jobs that the office was forced to close starting Tuesday because not enough experienced people were left to do the work.

Ken Murphy, service manager for Elco Electric contractors, said he was amazed yesterday when he found the office doors locked and a sign that explained the temporary closure.

"It's an inconvenience, for sure," he said, explaining that he needed an electrical inspection for a furniture store his workers were outfitting.

"I'll have to pull them off that job for a day or two," he said.

Department Director Ted Zaleski Jr. said senior public works employees whose jobs were abolished Feb. 11 "bumped" less senior permit applications workers in his department, who were in a similar job classification. He was left with only three experienced workers out of 10 to handle applications for building, plumbing and electrical permits. So he closed the office to train the new people. He said it would reopen tomorrow at the latest.

"Everybody out there who knows anything about it is out there helping," he said, thankful that February is the slow season for construction permits.

Mr. Zaleski said he thought it was better to train the new people properly while the office was closed for a few days than to try to operate and risk lines of impatient customers and mistakes by people unfamiliar with the computers and the procedures.

Bureau chief Eugene A. Freeman said the permits workers who were bumped out of their jobs generally had two to eight years of experience. One of those eight-year veterans has already regained her job, however, he said, because another affected worker decided to retire.

Permits and Licenses lost 18 of its 180 positions last week for a savings of $352,000 per year. Seven of those cut were vacant jobs. Mr. Zaleski said he had been leaving vacant jobs unfilled in expectation of layoffs.

Meanwhile, Susan Fernandez, state director for Women's Services, said she's wondering who to hold responsible for $50,000 in state funds earmarked for crime victims. The money had been funneled through Baltimore County's Criminal Justice Coordinator, Robert McQuay, whose job and department were abolished.

"It's unfortunate that we had no notice," she said, adding that she is simply trying to find out who's in charge. The state contract, she said, is with the criminal justice coordinator, and if that job no longer exists, she has to find out who is accountable for the money.

Karen Keyser, the county's Family Violence Program LTC Coordinator, said her unit, which funnels the money to three county nonprofit agencies who operate domestic violence shelters, is still in business. Ms. Keyser worked under Mr. McQuay's supervision.

The cuts imposed by Mr. Hayden eliminated Mr. McQuay's job but transferred Ms. Keyser's unit to Police Department supervision. Ms. Keyser said that after word spread last Thursday that the coordinator's office was abolished, other county workers began behaving as though she had been fired, too.

"Friday, nobody came to a meeting I had scheduled," she said.

County attorney H. Emslie Parks said his office is researching Ms. Fernandez's question, and County Administrative Officer Merreen E. Kelly said he and Mr. Hayden have not yet decided who will be responsible for federal and state criminal justice grants.

Meanwhile, library Director Charles W. Robinson confirmed yesterday that the lease for the Wellwood mini-library in the Greenspring Shopping Center on Smith Avenue near Pikesville calls for the county to pay double rent if it leaves the space before the lease expires in October 1995.

Mr. Robinson noted that the library cost $134,688 a year to run, so even paying double the $40,000 a year rent would be cheaper for the county.

He suggested, however, that the space will either be leased to a new tenant, or that the county's lawyers will find a way out of the lease long before it expires.

Community activists who want the library reopened have scheduled a rally at the storefront Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

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