Charity asks for on-job campaign

Commissioners mull United Way request for payroll deductions

`Give people an option'

Dell concerned county workers may feel coerced to give

September 03, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Carroll's status as the only county government in the Baltimore metropolitan area without a United Way campaign is "almost embarrassing," volunteers with the nonprofit agency told the county commissioners yesterday.

But the commissioners said they are reluctant to start a campaign unless the proposal can win the support of all three members of the board.

"I would like all of us to be together on it," Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier told members of the United Way Community Partnership of Carroll County, who met with the commissioners yesterday morning, asking them to allow county employees to make charitable contributions through payroll deductions.

A unanimous board vote is unlikely because Commissioner Donald I. Dell is opposed to the campaign, fearing it would appear to be an endorsement by the county or could constitute coercion if employees feel pressured to give.

Dell was out sick yesterday, but called before the meeting to express his objections.

Commissioners Frazier and Julia Walsh Gouge, who both appeared to favor the proposal, agreed to postpone the vote several weeks so they could discuss the issue with Dell. But Frazier held out little hope for starting a campaign in the county this year. Before Gouge persuaded her to postpone the vote, Frazier made a motion to reject the United Way's request and have the nonprofit agency return next year.

"We can certainly continue to lobby Donald. I don't think he'll change his mind," Frazier said.

Dell, who is serving his third term on the board, has voted against similar proposals.

Many of the county's largest employers -- such as banks, Random House, Western Maryland College, Carroll County General Hospital, the city of Westminster and Carroll County public schools -- allow employees to make United Way contributions through payroll deductions.

The United Way Community Partnership of Carroll County raised $309,678 in corporate and payroll deductions last year. In turn, the United Way of Central Maryland gave $928,600 to Carroll through grants to community agencies such as Human Services Programs Inc. of Carroll County, Scouting groups and the Red Cross.

But Carroll County government has remained opposed to joining the partnership. Carroll is the only county served by United Way of Central Maryland -- which includes Baltimore City and the counties in the metropolitan area -- whose government does not have a campaign.

"It's one of those things that's almost embarrassing," said Virginia W. Smith, chief executive officer of Union National Bank and chairwoman of United Way's local fund-raising committee. "What makes us so different? All we are asking is to give people an option."

Gouge explained that the county was once inundated with requests from charities asking for employees to donate by payroll deduction. Instead of appearing to favor one charity, the county rejected all requests, she said.

Gouge also raised questions about how much pressure employees would feel when asked to give. Gouge said she did not want employees who chose not to donate to feel "chastised."

A survey conducted several years ago showed that about 6 percent of the county's 930 employees would take advantage of the program if it were offered.

Carroll Henderson, the regional development director for the United Way, assured Gouge that the campaign could be as low key as the commissioners wanted.

After the meeting, Henderson said he has not given up hope that the commissioners will allow the payroll deduction.

"We'll keep trying," he said.

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