Private matters in Baltimore County

January 28, 1994

The Baltimore County government has wisely shed two more tasks once done entirely with county tax dollars by county employees.

Last week, the County Council approved a pair of measures, originally submitted by the administration of County Executive Roger Hayden, that would privatize the transporting of prisoners to District Court and the writing of parking tickets in the jurisdiction's business centers.

The likely upshot? Some extra income for the county and the equivalent of 17 police officers added to street patrols.

The $150,000 meter-enforcement contract with J.L. Associates, a firm that provides the same service for Montgomery County, could generate roughly 60,000 parking tickets and $1.5 million in revenue.

Each of those figures is twice what the county had projected for this year had it continued dispatching one lonely cadet to do the job that will be handled by five private "agents" starting Feb. 1.

Stricter enforcement of county meters should reduce the number of people who park their cars all day in two-hour spaces. With the resulting increase in the turnover of spots, a more parking-friendly atmosphere for shoppers and other visitors to the eight business districts will likely be created.

Some business owners wonder whether people will find the new system a headache and thus choose to stay away altogether. A certain degree of inconvenience might occur, especially in the early stages of the nine-month experiment, but most folks should be able to adjust their parking habits.

Indeed, as taxpayers they ought to be willing to deal with a little hassle if it puts an additional profit of some $585,000 in the county coffers.

That amount is just slightly higher than the cost of the county's year-long contract with Wackenhut Corp. for prisoner transport, which begins March 1. While the officers who used to carry out this chore are upset about returning to the street, county residents should be happy that the 30,000 police hours annually spent on moving and guarding prisoners will now be devoted to crime-fighting.

As with other cases of privatization, government officials must closely monitor how these two new contractors perform during the coming months. If significant problems emerge, then the deals should not be renewed. In the meantime, credit the county government for seeking and finding ways to ease the responsibility of citizens to pay for important public services.

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