Howard's Ecker now plans layoff of 100 workers

April 12, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

The Howard County executive told the County Council yesterday that he will announce "less than 100 layoffs" next week -- half the number he initially proposed -- and that he has no plans to furlough any employees.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker also told the council that his first budget, to be released Tuesday, will not include money for a previously negotiated 6 percent pay raise for teachers.

Mr. Ecker has been vocal in his opposition to honoring the teachers' increase when county employees are receiving no raises and face layoffs because of revenue problems brought on by the recession.

The executive did not say how much he would cut from the school budget, but if it includes automatic "step" increases, the amount could be up to $8.5 million of the Board of Education's $188.4 million request.

School spending promises to become a controversial topic because the education budget is the only area in which the council has the authority to restore money cut by the county executive.

The association representing the county's teachers already has mounted a letter-writing campaign and plans a rally to press for restoration of any cuts.

"The only thing I am taking out is in salary," said Mr. Ecker, a Republican who is a former deputy superintendent of schools. "I am not taking anything else out" of the school board's budget request.

Mr. Ecker's decision to forgo furloughs -- leave without pay for a specified period -- was criticized by two council Democrats, Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, and Shane Pendergrass, D-1st.

Mr. Gray said he had hoped that furloughs, which the council authorized earlier this month, would reduce layoffs. He also said that he thinks any money cut from school salary accounts should be spent elsewhere in the education budget.

"It disturbs me that 10 days after we pass furlough legislation, you don't intend to do it," said Ms. Pendergrass. "It sounds to me like you always intended to do layoffs."

"I did, yes ma'am," said Mr. Ecker in reply, adding that in future years furloughs might be an option.

Mr. Ecker announced earlier this year that he expected 200 layoffs. The administration later said it would reduce the number because the council gave Mr. Ecker authority to deny merit and longevity pay to county employees next year, saving about $2 million.

Mr. Ecker said he is pressing ahead with layoffs because "there is a need to reduce the base of government, or the next year we will be facing the same thing."

In addition, he plans to eliminate 100 unfilled positions.

The two Republican on the council, Darrel E. Drown and Charles C. Feaga, backed the executive's layoff proposal.

"The bottom line is that we have to reduce the level of government," said Mr. Drown, R-2nd.

"If you furlough employees, maybe you don't need the people in the first place," added Mr. Feaga, R-5th.

Mr. Ecker said throughout his campaign that the county government was too big. He criticized former executive Elizabeth Bobo for adding 472 positions -- 100 of which remain unfilled because of a hiring freeze.

The county currently has 1,725 full-time employees.

If 100 employees are laid off, it would save the county about $4.2 million annually based on average pay of $32,700 and a benefits package of $8,100, according to the county personnel office. Mr. Ecker also told the council he planned to put $1 million in his budget to begin a "rainy day" fund which he wants to build up to $16 million eventually to help offset future downturns.

He also repeated his earlier statements that the property tax rate would rise above its current level of $2.45 for each $100 of assessed value, but once again declined to say by how much.

Mr. Ecker also said he planned to increase admission and amusement taxes, currently 5 percent, to 7.5 percent, starting Oct. 1, which would raise $200,000 next year.

He said the budget will provide for expansion of curbside recycling so that it is countywide by the summer of 1993. He also wants money for comprehensive studies of waste management and transportation.

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