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Consolidation

June 13, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

When it comes to proposals for the consolidation of government services, we must say this: Washington County has been down this road before, without really getting anywhere. If the Greater Hagerstown Committee is going to break the pattern, it must get elected officials' commitment to participate and act on proposals that have real potential for saving money and improving efficiency.

Mike Callas, chairman of the Greater Hagerstown Committee, said his group is setting up a task force to pursue some of the suggestions that came from the Management Review Team, a 35-member group of businesspeople who spent three weeks studying the county school system.

Its report included 80 recommendations, including consolidating a number of school board and county government functions like payroll, vehicle maintenance and insurance claims management.

Local governments already cooperate to a limited degree, including having the county government handle some of Hagerstown's nonconstruction bids. But the larger mergers that have been suggested - a city/county permits and inspections department, for example - haven't been accomplished.

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One idea Greater Hagerstown should look at was proposed last year by Jim Bestpitch, staff representative of Council 67 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.

Called workplace re-engineering, it involves cross-training union members, then reducing the work force by attrition as workers leave for other jobs or retire.

Faced with the outsourcing of some functions union workers had traditionally handled in Cumberland, Md., the unions embraced the idea, city officials said.

The result? That city's utilities are projecting that they'll eventually save $500,000 a year.

Cumberland officials also say the project provides $600,000 in productivity increases annually, because the cross-trained work force is more efficient. Greater Hagerstown could do worse than to start with a look at what happened there.

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