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Federal funding for the Hagerstown Telework Center will expire in March

Hagerstown City Council to decide whether it will take over operation and funding of center

February 25, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER | kate.alexander@herald-mail.com
  • Matt Cole, an employee of the U.S. Department of Energy in Germantown, Md., left, and National Institute of Standards and Technology employee Lynda Roark work Friday in the Hagerstown Telework Center.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

Federal funding for the Hagerstown Telework Center will expire in March, threatening to close the facility that for 17 years has saved area workers from long commutes to the Washington, D.C., area.

The center's fate lies with the Hagerstown City Council, which will discuss whether it will take over the operation and funding of the center Tuesday during a 4 p.m. work session, officials said.

The General Services Administration has cut federal funding to its 14 Washington-area telework centers, said Michael Pellegrino, director of the Hagerstown center.

Budget cuts were cited as the reason to eliminate funding to the telework centers, Pellegrino said, referring to information he received from the GSA in August 2010.  

All of the center's costs were paid by the GSA, which partnered with the city of Hagerstown in its operation, he said.

The GSA has funneled about $190,000 a year to the city to operate the center, employ Pellegrino and one other staff member and act as landlord for its space in the Elizabeth Hager Center at 14 N. Potomac St., City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said.  

With that funding gone, Hagerstown officials have advised the council that they believe it is not the city's role to independently operate the telework center, recommending it be closed and its staff positions eliminated, Zimmerman said.

Declining general fund revenue has impacted core city services, Zimmerman said.

Cuts have been made to accommodate revenue losses, and money is not available to assume full responsibility of the center, he said.

"We don't have a funding source," he said.

If the council chooses to take the staff's advice, the center will close on March 31, when funding expires, he said.

Pellegrino said he his job will be eliminated on April 15.

Matt Cole of Falling Waters, W.Va. has worked every other Friday at the telework center for the past 16 years, he said.

An employee of the U.S. Department of Energy in Germantown, Md., he said his days in Hagerstown are free from distractions and meetings, allowing him to catch up on critical work.

What he will do if the center closes is unclear, but Cole said he would most likely work from home.

If Hagerstown can get a business model that works, Cole said the city could be able to take over the center.

Lynda Roark of Boonsboro said her employer, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, has considered providing those who work at telework centers, as she does, with laptops to work from home.  It has also considered finding other centers where they can work.

Being able to telecommute a few days each week provides enhanced quality of life, said Carol Wood of Hagerstown, who also works for the institute of standards and technology.

"As opposed to getting up at 3:30 a.m. to get on the bus at 5 a.m. to get to work by 7 a.m., I can leave the house 10 minutes before I have to work," she said.

Not having to commute to the Washington area for one or two days each week allows her more time home with family and a chance to spend time downtown, she said.

Working in the telework center also provides employees an atmosphere where they can be more productive, Wood said.

"The agencies definitely get more bang for their buck when we work from here," she said. "This is a privilege I do not take lightly. It would be a shame if this closes. I'd be very sorry to see it go."

Until Friday, Pellegrino said he was under the impression from talking with officials that the city would continue to operate the center, but in a modified form.

About 25 people currently work anywhere from one to four days a week out of the center, an equivalent of approximately nine full-time shifts, or 40 percent utilization, of the 25 available work stations, Pellegrino said.  

The agencies and departments that employ the teleworkers have paid the GSA a flat rate of $72 per day per person to use the center, he said.

Pellegrino said he proposed to the city to appropriately size the telework center and fund it through the fees paid by employers, which could be adjusted to cover costs.

Under his proposal, the city could possibly even profit from operating a modified center, Pellegrino said.

However, he said he was not privy to city discussions after making his proposal.

City officials believe there may be a small space that a few teleworkers can use in the Elizabeth Hager Center after March 31, according to city documents.  Pellegrino and the other staffer at the center have been asked to stay with the city through April 15 to manage the transition, the documents said.

Representatives of the GSA did not return multiple calls for comment Friday.

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