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Delegation meets with public

December 14, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - During the state budget crisis in the early 1990s, some state employees initially were going to be fired before agreeing to a 20 percent pay cut in order to keep their jobs, said Julie Baker, who has been a state employee for 32 years.

Some fear Maryland's anticipated $1 billion budget shortfall could lead officials to free up funds by cutting state jobs and wages again.

"I think it's time that the state finds someplace else to get their money instead of off the backs of state employees," said Baker, a teacher at the Maryland Correctional Training Center's academic and vocational program. Baker, of Waynesboro, Pa., was named Washington County's Private School Teacher of the Year in 2007.

Maryland state Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said the current economic downturn has led to what he called a "dismal" budget situation that could be worse than the one experienced in 1991.

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Baker and about two dozen others asked Washington County's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly Saturday to spare their jobs and wages as they debate the state's budget when the legislative session begins in January. The meeting, attended by five members of the eight-member delegation, was at South Hagerstown High School.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said the meeting was a chance to hear from local residents and workers about what they would like lawmakers to do in Annapolis.

"This is a time we can hear from you," Myers said of the annual meeting.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington; Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington; and state Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, did not attend Saturday's event. Edwards and Mooney sent representatives on their behalf.

Larry D. Kump, a retired state prison case manager, called employee layoffs or proposed furloughs for most state employees "nonsolutions to good governance, program reform and effective administration of tax dollars."

Kump said that state employees should be able to choose the days they are on leave and stagger them appropriately. Instead of "absurd" furloughs to reduce the state's budget costs, a better decision would be to ask state employees for their cost-savings suggestions.

Employees could tell the governor's office directly about state government programs that duplicate efforts or are a waste of money, Kump said.

Issues that affect Washington County's senior citizens also were discussed Saturday.

Former Maryland Del. Pete Callas asked that lawmakers draft a resolution to increase the awareness of the Project Lifesaver Program - a nonprofit organization that provides rapid response to missing persons with autism, Alzheimer's disease, Down syndrome and other brain disorders.

The organization gives tracking devices to people, making it easier to find them quickly if they wander through a type of GPS tracking system.

Callas said that a bill has been introduced in the past supporting the program, but was withdrawn because of the cost.

"No, we're not asking for money, but if at any point in time there is the possibility of money for Project Lifesaver, that would be awesome," said Lynn Deibert, coordinator of the program.

She said there are 17 Project Lifesaver organizations in Maryland, including one in Washington County.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said he supported the program and that it should remain a nonprofit, but receive assistance from state government in coordinating with other counties.

"I think it's a great project," he said.

Others said there was a need for a dedicated, full-time senior center in Washington County, and showed support for a caucus on senior issues in Annapolis and asked that local representatives participate.

Ron Harsh, executive director of the Washington County Human Development Council, asked that the delegation work to resist cutting funds for the disabled. The loss of clients already has cost the council $200,000, and Harsh said it cannot afford further cuts.

"Our purpose is to give that care to people who cannot help themselves," he said. "I'm asking that no more money be cut."

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