Howard County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray says that County Executive Charles I. Ecker should consider furloughing employees instead of laying them off as he seeks to close a budget deficit.
Gray sent a letter to Ecker last week asking him to explore the option of furloughing employees for five or 10 days, which he said could save the county up to $2 million at a time when it is trying to close a projected $20 million revenue shortfall in the operating budget. He said layoffs should be avoided.
"Putting employees off the payroll will only create other unemployment costs, social services costs and health-related costs to be borne by the government," he said in his letter.
He estimated the average salary for county employees at $25,000 and said the jurisdiction could save nearly $1 million if each of them should be furloughed for five days this year. Howard could save nearly $2 million with 10-day leaves, he said.
"I hope we don't have to do either -- layoffs or furloughs," Gray said yesterday, "but furloughs would be preferable."
Ecker, who has maintained that he would try to avoid laying off employees, said he is considering furloughs and a number of other options to reduce the cost of government. But he said furloughs would have only a small impact on the county's budgetary problems.
"I think a furlough is very effective for short-term financial problems, but I think it's going to be a year or so before we start to notice any turnaround in our budget," he said.
Ecker added that the savings through furloughs would be lower than Gray's estimates because county has only about 1,850 full-time positions and 100 of them are vacant because of the county's current hiring freeze, which has been implemented to cut costs.
The county executive said the projected deficit may force him to impose a series of budget-reduction measures.
"If it has to go to that, a combination of furloughs and layoffs is an option," Ecker said.
The administration already has told county departments to trim their current budgets by 10 percent and has imposed severe restrictions on travel and expenses by employees.
Budget officials received some good news when the county Board of Education recently said it has made enough reductions in its current allocation to return $2 million to the county.
Ecker said the county also may save money by postponing some road-resurfacing projects and will try to raise money by continuing to seek authority from the state legislature to impose a 5 percent hotel-motel tax that could raise $1 million in revenue.
He said the county may be forced to raise property taxes and borrow money to avoid ending the fiscal year with a deficit.
"If we have to borrow, it will make the next year's budget more difficult," he said.