Police chief facing layoffs Trim Howard budgets, Robey, others told.

February 27, 1991|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Evening Sun Staff

As James N. Robey Jr. assumes the position of Howard County police chief, he faces the prospect of putting 38 officers out of work and trying to run the police department with a shrinking budget.

Robey, 50, a 25-year county police veteran, was appointed during a news conference yesterday just moments after County Executive Charles I. Ecker said 200 county employees will be laid off and that property taxes will rise.

Ecker released cost-cutting formulas from his department heads, whom he told to trim expenses by 16 percent from current levels to help meet a growing budget shortage.

Most directors offered plans that include layoffs, but none would lose more employees than the 297-member police department.

Along with the layoffs, proposed service cuts include elimination of the county library's Bookmobile and the county's payment for trash collection at private apartment complexes.

Ecker is trying to pare down expenses from the current budget of $286 million to $275 million for next year to make up for a projected deficit in the fiscal 1992 budget. The county still is grappling with a $20 million gap in its current budget, which ends June 30.

Ecker said a small tax increase is inevitable, but he would not disclose the amount he will seek in drawing up next year's budget.

Robey, who succeeds former chief Frederick W. Chaney, was ordered to develop his cost-cutting proposal while he was serving as acting police chief. His plan would lay off 50 employees, including 12 civilians, and leave five positions vacant.

"Sixteen percent is a bit drastic for us," he said with Ecker sitting nearby. "We will work with whatever you give us."

He added, however, that his department would prefer "a less severe hit," and that he will try to persuade Ecker not to make such deep cuts.

He'll have plenty of company.

"We'll be lining up at his door," said Manus O'Donnell, director of the county's Citizens Services Department, who would have to eliminate at least six full-time positions and cut back on social services to the elderly to meet the 16 percent reduction.

In all, county departments and agencies have identified nearly $10.3 million in cuts from the current spending plan to achieve Ecker's goals.

The biggest cuts would be in the Public Works department, which would get $3.6 million less than its current $22.8 million budget, and the police department, which would operate with $3.3 million less than its $20.8 million fund.

Thirty-five public works employees would lose their jobs and 16 vacant positions in the department would go unfilled under the proposal that director James Irvin submitted. The county also would save $346,470 if it stops paying for trash collection at apartment complexes and $400,000 by reducing overtime pay.

The Howard County Public Library would lose nine employees and its Bookmobile, according to director Marvin Thomas, who fears another round of cuts from the state.

Thomas said the $977,260 reduction in his budget from the county also would lead to higher fines for overdue materials and the elimination of summer operating hours at its Central Branch in Columbia. He said the library would have to buy fewer new materials.

"With the reduction in staff, there will be longer lines at the circulation desk and the information desk," he said.

Ecker, who retired as deputy superintendent of schools, is seeking deeper budget cuts from the school system, which wants nearly $5.8 million more than it received last year. He wants teachers to forfeit a negotiated 6 percent salary increase because other county employees will not get raises.

"I've been called a traitor to the school system," Ecker said. "I've been called a number of things."

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