Recreation workers vent frustrations at Hayden One supervisor calls steps 'crippling'

October 07, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

The 20-year county recreation worker's words were blunt, charged with emotion and aimed straight at Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden's face.

"We lost 33 jobs. I lost two [recreation] center supervisors. You have crippled our department," said Greg Ogle, 44, who supervises programs in Randallstown. "That's not downsizing. That's crippling. . . . It diminishes our ability to serve the public. I'm fed up. I'm sick of it."

A hushed silence filled the wood-paneled executive conference room, where 30 county recreation and parks workers had gathered to air their grievances during a two-hour meeting with Mr. Hayden. Similar meetings have been scheduled this fall with workers in every department. Yesterday's offered a rare glimpse inside county government, from the bottom up.

The workers told of increasingly frazzled, burned-out personnel stretching themselves and their outdated equipment to fill gaps caused by what they believed were often penny-wise but pound-foolish budget cuts.

"Morale in our department is zero," Mr. Ogle said. "You've got a lot of disgruntled . . . people who will be leaving. We've got to do something."

"This meeting is a start," he added.

In a move rare among elected officials often worried about their public image, Mr. Hayden encouraged the workers to be frank. Supervisors were excluded and department heads were warned that no one was to be punished for speaking his mind, he said.

Although Mr. Ogle's comments were the harshest, he was not alone. Others spoke of their frustration, of watching as programs and playgrounds they worked years to build slowly deteriorate. And they are bone-tired of doing more work while their own personal expenses and taxes rise -- and there are no pay raises.

Maintenance workers expressed disgust over their old, often makeshift equipment and having to watch their carefully trimmed and graded ball fields fall into disrepair. They complained that the dump trucks used to empty park trash are inefficient and promote injuries. Instead of using trucks specially adapted for trash, workers have to lift heavy 55-gallon containers over their heads to dump them. They are often showered with putrid water leaking through the trash. They have to watch out for needles when they wade through the truck bed to distribute the load.

Office workers said it makes no sense to force a high-level clerk to do a lower-paid receptionist's tasks just because the county won't hire a part-time person to answer phones. They also complained about using outdated rotary dial phones, which cause delays when they place calls and must listen to a recorded menu designed for push-button phones.

Later in the meeting, Mr. Ogle said he couldn't understand why program supervisors, the people who work with youths every day, were eliminated.

"That's stupid, just flat-out stupid," he said, adding that cutting administrative jobs would have been less damaging.

Jean Siegrist, an 18-year county worker, told Mr. Hayden how the last two years have affected her life.

"My expenses have gone up 17 percent," she said. "My income has gone up zero. . . . I've had to take two other jobs. I don't have any time [for recreation] now."

If people want services, they should be willing to pay the needed taxes, she said.

Mr. Hayden reminded the workers that he did raise county income taxes in 1992.

Richard Spilman, a park maintenance worker since 1987, said he's trying to support his wife and child and is buying "three bags of groceries instead of five," now.

"What are people going to do?" asked Mr. Spilman, who also said he has recently earned a two-year college degree and is looking for a better job.

Mr. Hayden, who has faced three years of recession and almost $90 million in state budget cuts and revenue reductions, hinted that a general cost-of-living pay raise may come next summer, if the state doesn't cut more money.

County workers have not had a general pay increase since Jan. 1, 1991, though some have received step and longevity increases.

He agreed to hold further discussions about getting better trash collecting equipment for parks and eliminating inefficiencies created by budget cuts.

"I'm pushed [financially] to the point of saying, 'What are our priorities in Baltimore County,' " Mr. Hayden said, explaining that public safety, education and public health are the top spending priorities.

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