The always-tender issue of city-county relations flared up again yesterday during a Baltimore County Council budget discussion on libraries.
This time the focus was a Baltimore City Council resolution requiring new city employees to be city residents. County Council members criticized the resolution and pointed to statistics showing about 15 percent of county library materials are borrowed by city residents.
The county complaints came as Charles W. Robinson, the county's outspoken library director, suggested having one large metropolitan library system in the Baltimore area, instead of a poor city system and a richer county one. A merged system could be run by an independent board of directors, and supported by a separate, regional library tax, he said.
City library spokeswoman Averil Kadis said the idea of merging libraries "may well be the wave of the future," and said, "We always have an open mind." She noted, however, that the city's Enoch Pratt Free Library has no such plans now.
Regarding the resolution, county Councilman William A. Howard IV, R-6th, said he was "disappointed that county residents will be discriminated against in employment." Mr. Howard, who represents Fullerton-Overlea, said there already is "underlying discrimination in promotions [in city government]," and called the practice "shameful."
Jesse Hoskins, Baltimore's personnel director, said a written policy gives city residents preference in promotions, if all other things are equal.
The city also gives hiring preference to its residents. Potential new employees who live outside the city must get a waiver from the mayor to get a city job. Currently, new city firefighters and department heads must live in the city.
For her part, county Councilwoman Berchie Lee Manley, R-1st, endorsed Mr. Robinson's idea to charge $10 to each of the 100,000 city residents who have a county library card.
"It's not vindictive, it's a service fee," she said.
Mrs. Manley is still smarting from County Executive Roger B. Hayden's decision in February to close a mini-library in Lansdowne, located in her district.
County Council Chairman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, D-3rd, said, "We need to go forward [with regional cooperation] not backward."
Some county residents use city libraries too, he said, mentioning that his son spent a week researching a school paper at the Pratt's central library in Baltimore. The central library is supported by state money.
City Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, responded to the resentment County Council members expressed over her resolution, saying, "Too bad, too sad. We're not discriminating, we're just making them move into the city."
City Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, who co-sponsored the resolution, also said he wasn't worried about any resentment.
"So what?" he said. "I used to work for the city, and every person I worked with in the finance department now lives in the county."
He said that, despite the city's shrinking tax base, "We supply employment in private and public jobs for county people." The city gets no tax benefit from the jobs because workers' piggyback income taxes are collected where they live, not where they work.
Baltimore is considering raising its piggyback rate from 50 percent to 52 percent to hire 120 more police officers.
The county raised its rate to 55 percent of the state income tax last year.
Mr. Robinson said he has discussed his ideas with Carla Hayden, who will take over as the Pratt's director in July. He acknowledged it would be impossible to combine large services such as education.
The idea could begin slowly with combined administrative and book-buying services, reducing current duplications, he said.
"I get killed every time I say this," he said. "The only opposition is all the people in the city and all the people in the county."