New county policies worry rec council volunteers
Wednesday, 15 August 2012 11:26

Area councils speak out on policy changes

by Nicole Rodman

    Across the Greater Dundalk area, there are 12 recreation councils that serve the needs of children and adults in the community.
    Run primarily by volunteers, these councils are supported, both financially and by support staff, by the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks.
    According to Fred Thiess, vice president of the Dundalk-Eastfield Recreation Council, lately this support has been lacking, leading to a decline in volunteers.
    “Many of the changes over the past couple of years have either placed larger burdens or financial burdens on recreation volunteers,” Thiess noted in an e-mail to The Eagle earlier this month.
    Consisting of four regions made up of 45 separate rec councils, Baltimore County’s recreation department oversees sports and leisure activities in neighborhoods across the county.
    In the southeastern part of Baltimore County, region 4 encompasses rec councils in Dundalk, Essex and Middle River.
    With budget cuts forcing the department to do more with less, in February the department offered an incentive allowing eligible employees to retire.
    As the department’s deputy director, Bud Chrismer, noted in a phone interview last week, with many of the department’s employees taking advantage of the incentive, reorganization was necessary.

As The Eagle reported in the March 8 issue, this past spring each of the four regional recreation coordinators was reassigned to a new region.
    At the time, department director Barry Williams lauded the move, explaining, “With fresh eyes you can see new cracks; they get a lot more attention.”
    However, as Watersedge Recreation Council president Todd Smith noted last week, the restructuring process “threw everything into flux,” disrupting rec councils in each region across the county.
    In addition to the reorganization of administrative staff, the county cut the number of field offices from 29 to 24, meaning some recreation councils were forced to move into office space already occupied by other councils.
    Smith noted that both the Watersedge and Turner Station councils were consolidated into the same field office as Dundalk-Eastfield, while the West Inverness office was moved to Essex.
    As Smith explained, such movement puts a strain on volunteers who expected to be working primarily in their own area.
    As both Thiess and Smith pointed out, council volunteers have also been forced to take on even greater responsibilities as the county no longer takes care of many of the tasks they had previously overseen, such as grass cutting, scheduling of games and moving equipment between county facilities and fields.
    Once the responsibility of paid county employees, rec council volunteers must now step up and take on these tasks themselves.
    According to Thiess, these changes have already had a drastic impact on recreation councils across the area.
 “Recent changes have placed larger burdens on recreation volunteers,” Thiess wrote in an Aug. 2 letter in The Eagle’s By The People section, explaining, “Most merely want to assist in organized youth sports or activities, and are not interested in food training, legal and insurance issues, cutting grass, moving equipment, etc. — things the county has done for years.”
    As both Thiess and Smith note, these new duties have led to a rapid decline in the number of volunteers willing to work with rec councils.
    “They are jeopardizing what rec and parks runs off of ­— volunteers. Many are giving up and walking away,” Smith told The Eagle, adding, “We are volunteers and we are being taken for granted!”
    For his part, deputy director Chrismer noted last week that many of the maintenance duties once handled by department employees (such as grass cutting) are being transferred to a new department within Baltimore County.
    As Chrismer noted, a meeting between the rec council presidents and the new maintenance crews will take place in the near future.
    Noting that the changes are not yet permanent, Chrismer explained, “Things are being ironed out.”
    While, for both Thiess and Smith, the decline in volunteers is alarming, Thiess is also concerned with a perceived lack of access to county facilities, most notably the Southeastern Regional Recreation Center (SERRC).
    According to Thiess, while SERRC was originally intended for use by the entire community, many teams and groups are being turned away from practicing there.
    Responding to this concern last week, Chrismer explained that rec councils have top priority in using SERRC facilities and that any leftover time is open to non-profit groups.
    Chrismer did note that non-profit groups must pay their own support staff as well as liability insurance in order to use the SERRC.
    Overall, many recreation council volunteers (including both Thiess and Smith) are concerned about the lack of communication coming from the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks.
    To that end, Chrismer noted that all of the rec councils’ concerns will be addressed by recreation director Barry Williams during his visit to the Region 4 meeting on Thursday, Sept. 13.
    According to Fred Thiess, he is just looking for “a greater level of communication [between the department and rec councils] and for the county to uphold their responsibilities.”
    For his part, Chrismer voiced his support for the county’s rec councils, noting “rec councils are an elevated group in this and we will do everything we can to serve them to the best of our ability.”