Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker says the County Council has given him the means to reduce the number of personnel layoffs to something under a projected 200 in order to balance the county budget.
"The number of layoffs will be decreased from 200," he said today. "How many, I don't know yet."
The County Council last night voted 3-2 to approve a personnel board plan to freeze merit-pay increases for county employees.
By the same count, it also gave Ecker authority to institute
TC countywide furlough of non-school and non-emergency employees.
The freezing of merit pay was expected to save the county $2 million. A furlough of all employees who are not involved in public safety or the school system would save an estimated $200,000 for each day they are ordered not to come to work.
Ecker said he would have to find out whether the state would further reduce its contributions to county programs before he will know what steps he needs to take to compensate for next year's projected $31 million budget shortfall.
He said action by state officials also will determine how much he will have to raise taxes. He has said he would impose an increase of up to 26 cents in the current property tax rate of $2.45 per $100 of assessed value and raise several county fees to balance the budget.
"I think the County Council understands the financial problem the county is in," Ecker said. "We need the option of these things to meet our financial needs."
The council also approved an Ecker request that will allow him to transfer $7 million from other county funds to the general fund this year to prevent the county from ending the fiscal year in a deficit.
"He got the flexibility he needs, and I think we owed him that," said Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, who voted to freeze merit increases but joined fellow Republican Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, in opposing the furlough bill. "I'd love to give everybody an increase, but I don't think that's in the cards this year."
Drown said the council actions probably will mean that the county will have to raise the tax rate by as much as 16 cents.
He said he opposed the furlough bill because it was a temporary measure and probably would mean the council would have to take similar action again next year. He said the budget exercise ultimately would help the county assess which areas should be be cut and said services would not suffer.
"There are going to be reduced services, but it will help us look at ways to tighten our belts," Drown said. "I think it's good to tighten your belts every couple of years. When you cut back, you really do understand where your priorities are."
Ecker, meanwhile, has tried to persuade public school officials to renegotiate their contract with county teachers. He says teachers should forfeit their 6 percent raises this year to share in the burden of balancing the county's budget.