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July 18, 2011

Privatization: Employees Are Heard

Michael Kurtianyk

County Commissioner Blaine Young began the public meeting on July 12 at Winchester Hall, by quoting a portion of a speech made by the one of our greatest president – Abraham Lincoln.


The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot, so well do, for themselves –in their separate, and individual capacities.


It was the first of four public hearings for the commissioners to get input on privatization of county services currently under consideration. The first two are for county employees with the public invited. The next two meetings are for the public with county employees invited.


Many people were there; in fact, the rooms were full. Protesters outside of Winchester Hall cheered the county employees as they walked into the building. There were many people from the Frederick County Teachers Association, showing their support for the county employees.


Early in the meeting, as the commissioners gave their comments, Commissioner Gray received the loudest applause for saying the following:


“It is our job to listen, and I think this is the first time we’ve done this seriously, on six months of actions that have scared everybody silly….There are solutions out there from our own people in the community and anybody that is interested in Frederick County government that this Board has to take the time, and the attendance and listen, and will continue to listen as we go through the process, instead of having it on a one-year fast track.”


Robert Riley, a certified public accountant and Accounting Team Leader at the county’s Finance Division, also spoke, but as a citizen, not in his current capacity in Frederick County government. He has also been responsible for the reporting of the General Fund since 2006. He said that the county is not in as grave a danger as the commissioners would have us believe. The structural deficit, he said, is not based on actual numbers; rather, it is based on budgeted numbers. By definition, a structural deficit occurs if the county posted a deficit in a year when there was no economic downturn.


Mr. Riley created a handout which showed that in no year did actual operating expenses exceed actual operating revenues. He stated: “If we were spending more than we were taking in, then we’d have to borrow money every year to cover our operating costs….We don’t do that, and we’re not broke.”


His presentation was one of the more cogent arguments against the biggest reason for public-private partnerships: that of the structural deficit. Is there a structural deficit? According to the current commissioners, there is. According to the Accounting Team Leader at the Finance Division, there isn’t:


“If we can acknowledge that we are not in such a dire situation, then we would have the time to test and track different methods to reduce costs while improving services. By creating this false sense of doom, we are handcuffing ourselves into thinking that we need to do 10 things at once. We haven’t even let the dust settle after the recent layoffs to determine the true effect on service levels and the bottom line.”


The most common theme I heard in the days following the meeting is that a public forum of this type should have been done before authorizing the expenditure of $25,000 to Oliver Porter’s group, PPP Associates. If you were there at Winchester Hall, or watched it on television or online, then you heard quite a few suggestions for making government work more efficiently.


Commissioner Young said at the end of the meeting that he wrote down 26 suggestions. He said he will keep an open mind.


The county employees, and their families, certainly hope so.


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