HCFA employees push to keep agency in Woodlawn Workers cite fear of crime downtown


More than 500 people turned out yesterday for a hearing at which employees of the Health Care Financing Administration demanded that federal officials keep their agency in Woodlawn.

The union representing most of the agency's 2,800 workers is opposing a proposal to move the parent agency of the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs to downtown Baltimore.

Hundreds of HCFA employees were taken by bus to Martin's West yesterday for a hearing before the General Services Administration, the federal agency that is assessing the environmental impacts of a site on Security Boulevard in Woodlawn and another next to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

"You couldn't pay me to live in the city, and you couldn't pay me to work in the city," said Deborah Butler, an HCFA secretary who lives in Woodlawn and said her son was recently shot while visiting a downtown Baltimore nightclub.

"I think you made your decision that you're going to go downtown and you don't care about the people," she said.

Ms. Butler's comments were representative of those of dozens of employees, who talked about everything from handicapped access to whether agency productivity would suffer when there were daytime baseball games.

But most of the comments at the meeting focused on transportation and crime.

Janet Reichert, a program analyst from Parkton, said her 35-minute commute to Woodlawn would stretch to more than an hour using the car and light rail or an hour-and-a-half by car.

But the General Services Administration has estimated that average commuting times would be about four minutes longer if a downtown location was chosen.

The sharpest exchanges came over crime, as a Baltimore County police statistician disputed the GSA's recent finding that crime around the two sites is about the same.

Phil Canter, representing the county police department, said the GSA's data exaggerates crime within a half-mile of the proposed Woodlawn location.

He said the GSA included crimes in districts that include any territory within a half-mile of the site but did not adjust for crimes that actually happened in parts of those districts that are farther away.

But GSA officials and consultants were not impressed by Mr. Canter's presentation.

"He was obviously grandstanding," said Harold Quinn, director of the planning staff of the GSA's public buildings service.

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