Forty Howard County government workers were laid off today in a move County Executive Charles I. Ecker said was needed to help balance next year's operating budget.
"I don't think we can run the risk of hoping the economy will turn around quickly enough to help balance next year's budget," Ecker said.
County supervisors today summoned employees into conference rooms to give them the bad news and to arrange counseling for them. Workers were told in separate sessions that they will continue to receive county paychecks until June 19 and will receive help from the county in finding new jobs. The county will pay their health benefits until September.
The number of people laid off is only a fifth of the 200 layoffs that Ecker originally proposed after department heads submitted plans, as requested, to reduce their budgets by 16 percent. County Administrator Buddy Roogow said department heads did another evaluation that called for fewer cuts.
The cuts are being made to help offset a projected $31 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Ecker, as he promised last month, did not lay off any police officers or firefighters. The hardest-hit department was public works, where 18 people lost their jobs. He said he laid off people at positions that were deemed least critical to the operation of government. He said those with higher seniority had more protection.
Other departments and agencies with more than one job loss are the office of county administration, three full-time and one part-time; citizens services, four full-time and two part-time; and recreation and parks, three seasonal employees.
Roogow said they will not have to report to work or to the counseling and job training sessions to collect their salaries until June 19.
L "Their jobs during that time will be to find jobs," he said.
The cuts will save the county about $1.5 million in employee wages and benefits, based on an average annual salary of $30,000 and $7,500 in benefits packages, Roogow said.
County Councilman Paul Farragut said he was disappointed that Ecker did not instead furlough employees to cut costs -- five-day furloughs of each employee would have saved $1 million a year -- but was relieved that more people were not laid off and will remain on the payroll for two more months.
"Naturally, I feel disappointed that we have to let anyone go, but we are facing difficult financial times," Farragut said.