Harford County Executive Barry Glassman plans to outsource landfill operations and related solid waste services to Maryland Environmental Service, eliminating 46 jobs in the process.
The affected employees were told Wednesday morning that their positions will be terminated by Aug. 31.
They have been encouraged to apply for 27 existing county job openings, most of which are being back filled as a result of the county's recent retirement incentive program, according to a statement released Wednesday afternoon by Glassman's office. The statement did not say what those positions are; however, an administration spokesperson said the majority are in the Department of Public Works.
The county is also offering to work with the employees if they want to apply for positions with MES, a non-profit, quasi-public agency of the state government, whose chief executive is former Harford County Executive Jim Harkins.
According to county budget documents, administrative positions currently assigned to the Division of Environmental Services, which is under the Department of Public Works, include a deputy director of public works, chief engineer, division chief and program managers and coordinators. Operational positions include engineers, equipment operators, supervisors, laborers, weigh masters and landfill attendants and clerical staff.
"Without raising prices or limiting services to the public, the outsourcing planned to begin in late summer will provide opportunities to improve efficiency, realize cost savings and minimize future expenditures," the county's statement about the outsourcing reads.
Glassman said residents may notice staffing changes, "but this outsourcing will streamline county operations, increase our access to expert resources and allow for better cost management."
"At the same time, this is the last major reorganization in my transition plan, and we are working to find homes for affected employees," he said.
The employees' union, a division of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), was surprised by the sudden decision and is contemplating an injunction against the county, president Randy Fletcher said Thursday.
"It's not only not right, it's unfair," Fletcher said. "We went through negotiations and nothing was discussed in reference to that."
Since taking office in December, Glassman has outsourced a handful of information technology jobs and also transferred the county's building security force and its animal control operations to the county Sheriff's Office, effective with the start of the new fiscal year July 1. The security and animal control transfers resulted in some positions being eliminated, according to the administration.
The county executive also offered a retirement incentive buyout package with the goal of eliminating most of the positions of the employees who voluntarily accepted.
A total of 73 employees took the buyout, and it is some of those positions that now may be made available to the employees whose positions will be eliminated under the MES outsourcing.
The county is working on developing a memorandum of understanding with MES, which is proposing to provide services for the 2016 fiscal year at a cost not to exceed the county's budget for them, according to the statement, which also states that "MES only charges for expenses incurred, which would offer cost savings to the county."
MES would provide staffing for operations and technical support of the county's daily landfill operations, homeowner drop-off services, mulch and compost operations, roadside litter control, recycling and related engineering services. Most of those services are provided through the Harford Waste Disposal Center.
The center, off of Scarboro Road in Street, includes the county's only landfill, composting operations for yard waste and a collection center for recyclable materials. Most of the trash coming into the center is collected in the northern part of the county.
County government spokesperson Cindy Mumby said employees who leave county service will receive two days of personal leave, accrued annual leave and any compensatory time they are due.
She said she could not provide financial details on the arrangement between the County and MES, explaining that the negotiations for the "intergovernmental agreement" are not complete.
She did say the agreement will cover the period from Aug. 1 through the end of the 2016 fiscal year next June 30 and that MES will have to operate under the county's approved budget for FY 2016, which was adopted by the County Council on May 26 and signed by Glassman the following day.
Mumby said there is an expectation MES will be able to operate for less money than what has been budgeted.
"They [MES] are experts in the field, and given their size and expertise, we are hopeful they will be able to come in and do things more efficiently to both reduce costs and minimize future expenditures," she said.
She also said the fee structure for services to the public, such as for trash dumped at the landfill, will remain under control of the county.
Mumby said she didn't know when the agreement with MES will be signed. A briefing will be held for the County Council at its meeting on Tuesday, June 16, and the final agreement must be approved by the county Board of Estimates, she said.
The Division of Environmental Services is budgeted for $17.4 million in the new fiscal year.
Of that amount, $5.9 million is connected to the operation of the waste disposal center and related activities, such as the county recycling program, while $8.2 million is related to the waste-to-energy incinerator on the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground, which handles the majority of the trash collected in the county.
The incinerator, which is operated by a contractor and produces steam for the Army post, is due to be phased out in the coming year, after which the trash and recyclables that had been brought there will be taken to a transfer station in the White Marsh area, where Baltimore County will handle their disposal under a long-term contract the two counties agreed to in 2013. Harford has budgeted $3.3 million for the costs associated with the agreement that it expects to incur in fiscal 2016.
MES was established in 1970 as an independent state agency to provide environmentally responsible services at competitive prices to private sector and government clients, according to information the county provided Wednesday.
The 764 MES projects in three states include water and wastewater treatment, solid waste management, composting, recycling, hazardous materials cleanup, stormwater services and renewable energy.
Harkins took over leadership of the MES agency in mid-2005, resigning his post as county executive after he was appointed by then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich. John J. O'Neill Jr., the MES deputy director, also served under Harkins as county director of administration.
The agency's secretary is Harford resident and businessman Dr. Richard Streett Jr. Other MES board members include Bel Air lawyer Joseph Snee Jr. and Harford businessman Talmadge E. "Tom" Simons. Streett was a member of Glassman's transition team following his election as county executive.