With 16 years of experience in the Howard County government, Jonathan K. Hall never expected the news he got yesterday. He was one of 40 people to lose their jobs in the budget crunch, and he fears it may cost him his home.
"I never envisioned this happening because I thought my job was needed," said Mr. Hall, 46, an engineer in the Department of Public Works. "I set engineering fees on new subdivisions, and I bring money into the county."
His wife, DeGloria, has a job with the Social Security Administration, but even with her income Mr. Hall said they might not be able to keep up payments on their Columbia home unless he found work quickly.
"We live paycheck to paycheck, and we may have to sell our house because it will be difficult to make the mortgage payments on one paycheck," he lamented.
Stories like Mr. Hall's were the talk of Ellicott City yesterday after the workers were called in by their bosses, given the bad news and sent home.
The only good news was that the number of pink slips handed out was only a fifth of the 200 initially contemplated by County Executive Charles I. Ecker. The layoffs will save about $1.5 million, the equivalent of 3 cents on the property tax rate.
County officials said the layoffs were needed because the recession had cut revenues badly.
Without a tax increase -- which is expected -- the county will take in $26 million less next year than this year, they said.
"We have to reduce the budget's base because of the financial crisis," said Mr. Ecker, who said he planned no other layoffs now. "Unfortunately, a lot of good people had to be let go."
The laid-off employees, who had filled a mixture of blue-collar and middle-management jobs in the 1,725-member work force, will be paid through June 19 and can keep their health insurance until the end of September at current rates.
The county is offering them job counseling,resume writing and help in finding job interviews.
That was little consolation to employees such as George Lohrmann and Carl Weinberger.
For Mr. Lohrmann, a 42-year-old maintenance man who was hired last June, the layoff was the latest of a series of personal blows. He said the loss of his $21,000-a-year job "may force me to claim bankruptcy."
"I think it stinks," said Mr. Lohrmann, who has two children, aged 8 and 11, and is in the process of getting divorced.
Mr. Weinberger, a 61-year-old mechanical engineer with expertise in solid waste management and recycling, was left wondering what chances a person his age had of getting a comparable $44,000-a-year job.
"It is not the greatest time to look for a job, and I have the age factor against me," said Mr. Weinberger, who worried that he might have trouble paying tuition for the youngest of his six children, a 20-year-old son attending Western Maryland College.
Mr. Weinberger, who joined the county payroll last September, was working on updating a solid waste master plan already two years behind schedule. The plan outlines for the state how the county will handle its solid waste through 2001.
"What I don't understand is how this financial difficulty was not foreseen back in the past administration," said Mr. Weinberger of Timonium, who said he was shocked by his dismissal.
"If a business was run like this, it would soon go under," he said.
The Department of Public Works, where Mr. Weinberger was employed, was hit hardest by the layoffs, losing 18 of its 427 people.
Elsewhere, seven were laid off in citizen services, five in the administration, four in general services, three in recreation and parks and one each in the departments of inspections and permits, fire and finance.
"It was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do," said James Irvin, the county public works director, who broke the bad news. "Some of the employees had been here a long time, and several broke down when I told them."
The layoffs were based on the county's program needs and employee seniority, several department heads said.