Kamenetz seeks to merge Balto. Co. departments, cut staff

Incoming county executive sees $8 millionin savings

most affected jobs are vacant

December 01, 2010|By Raven L. Hill, The Baltimore Sun

Incoming Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz began Wednesday to act on campaign pledges to cut spending, announcing a proposal to save $8 million by merging several county departments and eliminating more than 140 positions.

The plan drew immediate support from County Council members, who like Kamenetz are looking for savings in anticipation of a continued economic downturn and the possibility that the state will begin shifting some costs, such as teacher pensions, to the counties.

"When I first announced that I would seek this office, I made it clear that I believed we could increase efficiency of county government, consolidate services and that Baltimore County could once again be the county of ideas," Kamenetz, a Democrat, said. "These goals will be our guiding lights."

The plan calls for folding three agencies — the Office of Community Conservation, the Office of Sustainability and the Office of Workforce Development — into existing departments, combining the jobs of labor commissioner and human resources director, and merging the duties of three other positions into an Office of Administrative Law, made up of three judges.

Four department head positions would be cut under the plan, which also calls for eliminating 143 vacant jobs. Cutting the vacant jobs would save $7.2 million, Kamenetz said. He estimated the four department heads' salaries and benefits total more than $750,000, though he left open the possibility that they could find other jobs in his administration. The cuts represent a small fraction of the county's budget and its more than 3,700 employees.

The County Council is expected to vote on the mergers in January; Kamenetz does not need legislative approval for the job cuts. Kamenetz and a council with five new members will be sworn in Monday.

Several council members said the proposals would keep the county on the right track.

"We're still in tough economic times, and we do have to find areas where we can save the taxpayers' money," said Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr., a Democrat. "Hopefully, these consolidation plans will work, save the taxpayers money and none of the great services that we provide will be affected."

Added Democratic Councilman Kenneth Oliver, "We're not laying off anyone — we're just not filling positions."

Incoming District 5 Councilman David Marks, a Republican, said the proposal will help to streamline departments and responsibilities.

"He's addressing some long-overdue changes that need to be made in county government," Marks said. "He's getting back to the tradition of Cabinet-level government, where agency heads supervise these functions."

Kamenetz noted that further mergers are likely. He plans to announce additional staffing changes by the end of the week.

Under the plan, the Office of Community Conservation, led by Mary L. Harvey, would be consolidated into the offices of planning, public works and social services. The Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management would absorb the Office of Sustainability, whose director is David A. C. Carroll. The Office of Workforce Development, under the direction of Barry F. Williams, would be merged into the Office of Economic Development.

Labor Commissioner George E. Gay is acting director of human resources.

The 143 jobs are spread throughout county government, said county spokesman Don Mohler. Baltimore County has eliminated 475 jobs since 1987, he said.

Kamenetz announced in November that he would seek spending and staff cuts as he braces for a lean budget in his first year. He has also asked Rob Stradling, the director of information technology, to recommend technology enhancements by February that would help improve government services and operations.

The Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees will keep its focus on protecting members, but if vacant positions "can be legitimately eliminated because of technology, we're not opposed to that," president John Ripley said.

raven.hill@baltsun.com

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