Cuts create unsafe conditions, reps say
Detention, juvenile centers operating with smaller staffs
CUMBERLAND — Representatives of the association responsible for negotiating for six of nine elements of Maryland government workers engaged in “a lively conversation” with all four members of the District 1 legislative delegation on Monday.
Sue Esty, assistant director of the Maryland chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and Steve Berger, the organization’s Western Maryland representative, gathered with three correctional officers and Ed Shoemake, a resident advisor at Mountain Meadow Youth Center in Grantsville. They stressed during a 90-minute meeting with Sen. George Edwards and delegates Kevin Kelly, LeRoy Myers and Wendell Beitzel that state employees shouldn’t shoulder the load of resolving the state’s budget problems.
There have been enough furloughs and layoffs of state workers. It’s had “serious and tragic consequences for many of AFSCME’s 30,000 members across the state, Esty said.
One female correctional officer said North Branch Correctional Institution has eliminated overtime on her shift and has “collapsed posts” — reducing the number of required officers per shift at certain stations — on certain days of the week. She said the change has created “an unsafe environment for her and her colleagues.
The Times-News has opted not to identify the three correctional officers. Esty said all three feared the possibility of disciplinary action at work.
Berger said NBCI and Western Correctional Institution both are maximum-security facilities but are operated like medium-security facilities in that inmates have access to a gym, an outdoor recreation area and they eat meals with each other.
One male correctional officer said despite budget constraints within the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which oversees all state prisons, programs for inmates have not been reduced.
“There’s a G.E.D. program for inmates with life sentences,” he said.
Shoemake, at Meadow Mountain Youth Center, said policy requires at least one staff person for every six children at the Garrett County facility. In reality, it frequently operates with a radio of 10 children for each of its four employees. Shoemake said he suffered injuries after being involved in an altercation with a child who stood 6-feet, 8-inches tall and weighed 360 pounds.
“I didn’t have staff to back me up, Shoemake said. “You cannot staff that facility with that amount of people” in a facility that never closes.
“Not only am I at risk, but the public’s becoming at risk,” he said.
Esty and Berger offered eight revenue-producing possibilities — including six taxes on alcohol, gasoline, Internet purchases and services such as auto repair that met with something less than enthusiasm from the delegation. The two also suggested using $325 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund and removing the sunset provision of the “millionaire’s tax” which, they claimed, could generate an additional $100 million.
Kelly said Allegany County is the second poorest county in Maryland and resented efforts to increase taxes on an already burdened constituency.
“Do you support new revenue?” Esty asked Kelly.
Kelly said that every one of Esty’s proposals were a tax on the people.
“I can not think of any (taxes I support) right now,” Kelly said.
Esty argued that the “economy has changed” and the proposed solutions each are “things that are responding to the economy.”
By taxing the services in a service-based society, she said, it could even lead to a lower tax rate.
Edwards countered that the solution can’t simply be to “tax people.” He said the delegation could consider refusing to endorse any new tax ideas without first changing the attitude in Annapolis.
Edwards said a primary goal should be to get lawmakers to consider cutting programs before considering any new taxes. He also said state colleges might have to raise tuition costs instead of freezing rates for a sixth consecutive year.