Shake-up in Towson


During his successful campaign for Baltimore County executive, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger touted the experience he gained from his nine years on the County Council. He said his background would enable him, as executive, to know which parts of the county administration were ripe for alteration or elimination.

Now, four months into his first term, Mr. Ruppersberger has unveiled his plans for an administrative reorganization that he vows should be good for the next decade -- if the council approves.

The numbers in the announced shake-up aren't eye-popping. Forty-four positions would be cut, for a savings of $1.7 million next year, or roughly one-tenth of 1 percent of the county budget.

The greatest impact would come in how duties are handled by the revamped agencies.

The departments of Central Services, Permits and Licenses and Community Development would be shut down, their responsibilities folded into other departments. The administrative structure would thus be streamlined, and the waste of the past decreased.

For example, inspectors in housing, health, zoning and building codes would be cross-trained so one inspector could handle any problem, ending the practice of dispatching an inspector for each of the four categories.

The proposed creation of a Department of Permits and Development offers hope that Baltimore County's inspection system, often flouted and too seldom enforced, could get some real teeth for a change. In addition, the county's permit process, famed for its frustratingly labyrinthine ways, stands a good chance of being simplified.

Another logical shift would be the merging of the Community Conservation Program with the Office of Planning. Also much-needed is the suggested Office of Information Technology, which would place county records, maps, charts and other important documents on a computer data base.

But Mr. Ruppersberger's concept of putting county employees on a "gainsharing" plan needs more study. It's a good idea that requires a detailed examination to iron out problems sure to surface.

Not all these ideas are new. Some of them originated in previous administrations. By and large, they aim to increase the county government's efficiency and responsiveness. The question is whether Mr. Ruppersberger can outdo his predecessors by taking these worthy proposals -- old and new -- and bringing them to fruition.

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