Howard budget strategy blasted Layoff plan angers 2 council members.

April 12, 1991|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Evening Sun Staff

Two Howard County Council members expressed anger when County Executive Charles I. Ecker told them that he will not furlough county workers for several days a year to save money, but instead will lay off fewer than 100 workers next week.

Ecker said yesterday he will announce the layoffs and cut the salaries of school employees when he proposes his first budget next week.

Another council member, one of two who defended the executive's budget-cutting strategy, said that "dead wood" exists in county government that should be dumped.

Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, and Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, criticized Ecker because they approved a furlough bill that he introduced last month. They said they had hoped it would reduce the number of employees Ecker would lay off when he proposes his budget next week.

"You did the budget without including fur

loughs in it," Pendergrass told him with a scowl yesterday as council members and Ecker faced off at the council's monthly meeting. "I'm wondering why."

She charged that Ecker never gave serious consideration to furloughing employees several days a year to save money.

Gray said the executive misled people by introducing a furlough plan and then backing off from it. He said he had strongly supported the plan, which the council approved by a 3-2 vote April 1, and said that he believed employees were willing to exchange several days' pay for job security.

The furlough plan was supported by the council's three Democrats, including Paul Farragut, D-4th, and opposed by its two GOP members, Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, and Darrel Drown, R-2nd. Combined with layoffs and the elimination of merit increases, it was viewed as a measure to help wipe out a projected $31 million shortfall in the 1992 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Ecker said he had considered furloughing employees for several days through the year. The county would save about $200,000 if all 1,700 employees were furloughed for one day.

But he said he was uncomfortable with the plan because it would increase the amount of overtime and said the county would not be able to give workers the flexibility they should have to choose their days off. He added that government needs to reduce its work force anyway.

"I did not use furloughs when building the budget for next year because I did not see an equitable way to do it," Ecker said.

County Administrator Buddy Roogow added that although the government is not considering furloughs for the next few months, it will keep the idea as an option in the future.

Feaga and Drown defended Ecker, a fellow Republican, during the meeting.

Drown said the county has to make cuts. Feaga said he was convinced of waste in government spending after speaking with several employees in the state's attorney's office.

"People in the state's attorney's office said there's dead wood there," he said.

State's Attorney William R. Hymes challenged that assertion, saying he has a productive, understaffed office of 49 employees.

"I do not know that he [Feaga] talked to anyone in our office," Hymes said. "If he made that statement, he is incorrect."

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