Balto. County agencies may be rearranged

March 21, 1995|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

The Ruppersberger administration has nearly finished plans to rearrange several county agencies and put its own stamp on Baltimore County bureaucracy.

And after four months, County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III and his top officials say they are getting close to hiring new leaders for five county departments.

The executive wants to centralize most inspectors in one agency and cross-train them, centralize and streamline government purchasing and simplify the process for obtaining government permits. To accomplish that, he may create a new agency to promote and coordinate the use of computers and technology.

Mr. Ruppersberger said his reorganization plans will be announced before his first budget presentation April 12, although last-minute decisions have not been made.

"I want to set a management structure to allow us to be efficient, to provide better services and save money, too," the executive said.

Mr. Ruppersberger would not reveal details of which departments will grow and which may be eliminated or merged but he conceded that there is no search under way for a new director for the Department of Community Development.

That agency likely will be split among three or four departments, several sources said. It was created in 1987 as a home for federally funded housing and job training programs.

Most of the Ruppersberger ideas are not new. Roger B. Hayden, his predecessor, also talked about cross-training of building, zoning and rental housing inspectors. Plans for speeding up and simplifying the permit process were promoted by the last three executives.

Dennis F. Rasmussen, executive from 1986 to 1990, proposed shortening the development review process while giving the public more say, and Mr. Hayden did that after he took office in 1990. But there are still complaints, especially from people who want simple permits for sheds, decks or other home improvements. A former Hayden staff aide has started a business charging clients $25 an hour to obtain permits.

At the same time, citizens who try to get something done about unkempt homes or neighborhood trash complain about being bounced from agency to agency as they seek the proper inspector. Zoning officials said a problem property often will be visited by inspectors from health, zoning, building and housing agencies.

These complaints have been listened to more closely in recent years, as officials realized they must find ways to make older neighborhoods safe from blight and attractive to younger families now moving to Harford and Carroll counties. Preserving older neighborhoods is a top Ruppersberger priority.

Inside county government, transactions can be just as cumbersome and complex.

For example, Mr. Ruppersberger, a councilman for nine years before taking office as executive Dec. 5, and other county officials said internal purchasing can be delayed by the need to get clearances from up to three departments.

While he's finalizing his reorganization plans, Mr. Ruppersberger looking for top officials to run the Economic Development Commission and the fire, health, public works and personnel departments.

Mr. Ruppersberger said a new economic development director could be named as early as next week, with recommendations expected for fire, public works and personnel in four to six weeks.

The search for a new health officer could take a bit longer, he said.

The executive said county salaries in the $70,000 to $90,000 range have made it difficult to find the professional, nonpolitical people he wants to lead county departments. "As we give certain department heads added responsibilities, we may raise their salaries," he said.

But he and his top officials said the delay has not hurt the county, because the affected departments are being run by highly competent deputies or acting directors, a view shared by County Council Chairman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat.

The chairman said he's not disturbed by the time Mr. Ruppersberger has taken to hire department heads.

"He's doing it differently," Mr. Gardina said. "He's trying to go outside of political patronage, and he's running into a salary problem."

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