Council Favors Pay Raises Over $6.8 Million Reserve

April 21, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

A majority of County Council members say they favor giving county employees raises when the new budget year begins July 1.

To do that,County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann would have to amend the budget so some of the $6.8 million set aside as reserve would be added to each county department's budget to cover pay raises.

An amendment would be needed because the charter limits the council's authority over the county budget. Legally, the council can only add money to the Board of Education budget. The only power the council has over the amount of money in other county departments' budgets is the power to make cuts.

Council members who say they favor granting employee raises are Jeffrey D. Wilson, council president, Barry T. Glassman, R-District D, Robert S. Wagner, R-District E, and Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C.

They did not say how much of a raise they want to give county employees. County Executive EileenM. Rehrmann froze all government worker salaries in the new budget and has not given the Board of Education enough money to pay any raises either.

Rehrmann said she will not amend her 1991-1992 budget toaccommodate raises, because the reserve would protect the county's bond rating.

And council members say they will not approve raises that would affect only one group of workers, such as school employees.

"One group is not going to get a raise, if the others aren't," said Glassman. "If one person gets a raise, all county employees would get it. But that's still up in the air."

Even if Rehrmann were to agree to amend the budget to accommodate raises, council members' hands may be tied.

That's because a state law awaiting the governor'ssignature, would penalizecounties which give raises to school, library or community college employees. Passed by the General Assembly this past session, the law would apply only to the fiscal 1991-1992 budget year, which begins July 1.

Under the new law, the state will not make Social Security contributions resulting from increases to the fiscal 1991 wage base or performance, longevity or individual salary increase for school, library or community college employees as a penalty.

If the county paid for raises for school, library or community college employees, the council would have to decide whether it could afford to make up the difference in Social Security payments in addition to the raise.

James M. Jewell, the county treasurer, said that if school employees received 8 percent raises this year, as theircontract calls for, it would cost the county $1 million in penalties.

Wilson said, "I think it's illegal, or at least inappropriate, to hold $6 million out. Once you've said there's $6 million out there,you have to consider how it should be applied. Step increases are part of the system. I believe we can and should maintain the integrity of the system."

Dick Larkin, a managing director at Standard & Poor's Corp. of New York, said the practice of setting aside enough money to provide a cushion within county or municipal budgets is viewed as sound financial planning.

"When we're asked to give a bond rating to a county, we look to see if they have any reserve funds, just like you maintain a bank account as a rainy day fund," said Larkin.

"We routinely say that about 5 percent of the operating budget is good financial practice. Not too many counties have that, and those arethe kind of counties that are experiencing stress now over bond ratings."

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