Public Works likely to take over maintenance of parks

September 18, 1997|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

In a move that is raising reservations among city parks advocates, Baltimore's Public Works Department wants to take over all but a few key functions in maintaining Baltimore's 6,500 acres of parkland.

The plan, which had been expected since the spring, is likely to be approved by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke next week. It would leave only 50 employees in the parks division of the Recreation and Parks Department to oversee long-term planning, environmental programs and community involvement.

Public Works would assume management of the forestry division, park and building maintenance, trash collection, road repair and other support services. About 227 people who work for parks would move to Public Works.

Community activists say that they are apprehensive about Public Works taking over duties that have been handled by parks professionals. When parks advocates first learned earlier this year that the some functions of the department would be merged into Public Works, they protested furiously. They alleged that Public Works lacked the know-how to run city parks.

"My concerns are the overall coordination of park planning and management," said Jackie Carrera, executive director of Parks and People, a city group involved in parks issues.

"Now that these functions are being taken by another agency, how is that going to translate into the day-to-day routine of parks [management]?" Carrera asked.

The plan would save the city $2 million, said Public Works Director George G. Balog, who drafted it along with acting Recreation and Parks Director Thomas V. Overton.

The savings, said Balog, would come from consolidating tasks such as garbage pickup and grass-cutting that have been duplicated by the departments. Balog said no layoffs are expected.

Balog said yesterday that his department will be able to better maintain the city's parks.

Five of the city's major parks -- Druid Hill, Carroll, Clifton, Herring Run and Patterson -- will be cleaned daily, and most others will be tended to twice weekly, according to Annette Stenhouse, parks spokeswoman.

Overton said that, if approved, the plan would be implemented quickly.

"I would imagine within the next 30 days for sure," Overton said.

Because of budget cuts, the Recreation and Parks Department has to come up with $4.5 million in savings. Overton said that the anticipated $2 million in savings from the plan would offset part of the deficit.

This week, another plan to cut the Recreation and Parks Department budget by an additional $2 million is expected to be presented to the mayor.

Earlier this year, in cost-cutting moves, several people were laid off in the recreation department, and the Police Athletic Leagues took over 10 more recreation centers in addition to those it already was operating.

Pub Date: 9/18/97

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