Council critics see small savings in Ecker layoffs Layoffs save less than $500,000 over 5-day furloughs, critics point out.

April 16, 1991|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Evening Sun Staff

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker saves only $1.5 million in his first operating budget by laying off 40 employees.

That's just $500,000 more than he would have saved by furloughing all 1,726 workers for five days.

And when he gets the county's unemployment compensation bill for its share of payments to the laid-off workers, the savings will be even less.

So why did Ecker lay off people yesterday when many employees and the County Council sought furloughs?

"I think he wanted to make a statement, to send a message that he was going to reduce the size of county government," said Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd. He noted that Ecker ran for county executive last year on a platform that called for smaller government and criticized an 88 percent expansion in the number of county employees in the previous four years.

Ecker said the layoffs were needed to help balance the proposed fiscal 1992 budget, which is being unveiled today and which is expected to call for an increase in the current property tax rate of $2.45 per $100 of assessed valuation. He noted that he reduced the number of layoffs from his original estimate of 200.

But Gray said savings from the layoffs would have been virtually equal to those from five-day furloughs.

While Gray and other Democrats on the council have backed furloughs in hopes that they would prevent layoffs, Republicans have called for a trimmer government.

Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, said the county needed to lay off people and indicated that more jobs may have to be eliminated. He acknowledged that there would be little difference in savings between 40 layoffs and five-day furloughs.

"Sure we could have done that [furlough employees]," Drown said. "But what would happen next year if the economy does not turn around? We'd have to furlough people again. The bottom line is we've got to reduce county government."

The government had grown to about 1,850 employees last year. Since then, the government has lost about 120 positions to attrition. But Ecker said yesterday that he could not wait for attrition to reduce government spending on employee salaries.

Those who were laid off were notified by supervisors yesterday and offered counseling and job-training skills. They were told they would continue to receive paychecks until June 19 and that the county would pay their health benefits until September.

The 40 layoffs were only one-fifth of the number of people Ecker originally had said would lose their jobs when he told department heads to cut costs by 16 percent to offset a $31 million budget shortfall in the next budget cycle, which begins July 1.

Ecker's proposed budget does not provide for money to increase salaries for public school teachers.

Ecker reduced the Board of Education's $188 million spending request by the $8.5 million it would require to increase teacher salaries 6 percent as called for in a contract agreed to last year.

The council could restore the money for the pay increase, but it also would have to raise the property tax rate by 17 cents. Gray said he told teachers not to expect that.

"I've indicated to them that it's very, very unlikely that the council will raise taxes to get teachers their increases when other employees aren't getting raises," Gray said.

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