Council passes recreation background check bill
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 12:59

Fiscal impact of measure remains unclear

by Nicole Rodman

    The Baltimore County Council has passed a bill requiring all Baltimore County recreation council volunteers who interact with children to undergo criminal history background checks.
    The bill, voted on last Monday, passed the council unanimously.
    According to the language of the bill, the purpose of mandating the background checks is to “ensure the safety of minor participants in sanctioned recreation council programs and events and promote peace of mind to all persons who participate in sanctioned recreation council programs and events.”

Currently, Baltimore County is one of just three  counties in Maryland that does not mandate background checks for recreation volunteers.
    The number of Baltimore County recreation council volunteers that have contact with children is estimated by the county auditor’s office at 30,000 per year.
    The bill passed by the County Council requires Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks director Barry Williams to consult with the Baltimore County Office of Law and the Board of Recreation and Parks to  create a background check policy for the county’s recreation councils.
    The legislation gives Williams until July 2015 to create and enact the policy.
    The policy must detail which offenses are severe enough to disqualify an individual from volunteering and must also specify whether the disqualification is permanent or temporary.
    According to Brian Weir, a Board of Recreation and Parks member representing District 7 and current candidate for County Council, the move to mandate background checks is long overdue.   
    When asked why Baltimore County did not already require background checks for recreation council volunteers, Weir simply said, “Good question; it’s about time.”
    According to Weir, the Board of Recreation and Parks has been working on the issue for the last year.
    “We have already looked into and have the policies in place that the statewide systems use,” Weir explained.
    While the County Council’s newly-passed legislation empowers the Department of Recreation and Parks to create a background check policy, the bill does not indicate how the checks will be paid for.
    “That is still to be determined,” Weir explained.
    According to the county auditor’s office, the fiscal impact of the legislation can not be determined until an official policy is created and a background check service chosen.
    The auditor’s report did note that the background check service used by the county government costs $34.50 for each person fingerprinted.
    If the same service is chosen by the Department of Recreation and Parks, the cost for background checks on 30,000 volunteers would total $1,035,000.
    Adding in the cost of new fingerprinting machines and additional staff would bring the total estimated cost to $1,186,600 for the first year.
    “Based on an estimated
230,000 registrants (and 30,000 volunteers), a $5 fee per registrant and volunteer would cover first-year costs,” the report concluded.
    Attempts to contact 7th District Councilman John Olszewski Sr. for comment on the legislation were unsuccessful.
    When contacted for comment, the Department of Recreation and Parks referred The Eagle to the Baltimore County Office of Communications.
    The Office of Communications did not respond to requests for comment by press time.