After nearly eight months of uncertainty, Baltimore County's central garage workers learned yesterday that their jobs aren't going on the auction block called "privatization."
County Executive Roger B. Hayden delivered the news personally late yesterday to 25 mechanics and clerks crowded into a dingy room off the Towson garage's main repair floor.
"It's a load off me and off a lot of people," Don German, a garage employee for 21 years, said after the meeting.
"Now people can make decisions about major purchases, and we'll get more positive suggestions [for improving the garage]," he said. Until now, he said, workers were worried that any ideas they developed for improving the garage would be used by private bidders intent on replacing them.
"Morale will be a whole lot better now than before," added garage Superintendent Robert Book.
The workers have been under the gun since Feb. 11, when Mr. Hayden eliminated 566 county jobs, laid off 392 county workers and said the central garage might be turned over to a private contractor.
The county solicited an informal proposal from Ryder MLS, a private fleet manager based in Montgomery County. Officials compared costs and found county workers could do the job for $200,000 a year less, according to John R. Miller, director of central services.
"We put everything under a microscope," Mr. Miller said.
Because the county shop is not bound by a contract, he added, it is also more flexible in dealing with new policies or experiments, such as converting cars to use natural gas or refurbishing high-mileage police cars to last another year.
Mr. Miller said the garage will contract out some engine and transmission rebuilding jobs to save manpower and will computerize its operations.
"We're very pleased," Mr. Hayden said after meeting the workers, whom he praised for improving efficiency and cutting the wait for routine vehicle maintenance from 17 to 13 days.
The toughest immediate challenge may be to keep the county's aging fleet of about 627 police cars running safely until 81 new cruisers are delivered next July. Other than 21 new cars still stockpiled after being purchased two years ago, the only source of police vehicles will be rebuilding, Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Hayden strongly defended use of the refurbished and stored police cars, which some patrol officers have criticized as unreliable. "They're more than adequate -- they're safe," he said. When patrol cars run short, he said, police use detectives' special detail cars.
The county has not bought any new police cars since Mr. Hayden took office in December 1990. To save money, he is running cruisers up to 120,000 miles instead of trading them in with 80,000 miles, and is now rebuilding some vehicles to run as high as 180,000 miles.