Ecker warns council school budget move may trigger layoffs

April 26, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

The Howard County executive warned yesterday that more layoffs of government employees would occur if the County Council made substantial cuts in other departments to increase aid to the school system.

Executive Charles I. Ecker, a Republican, issued the warning because he is concerned that council Democrats are being pressed by the teachers association and other groups to shift up $8.9 million to the school board, to finance 6 percent raises for teachers.

"I do not want to lay off any more people, but the bottom line is that I am concerned about more layoffs if there are significant cuts in the county government's budget," said Mr. Ecker, who handed out 40 pink slips last month.

"As I see it, the council will be laying them off, not me," Mr. Ecker added. "The blood will be on the council's hands."

Council Vice Chairman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, disputed the executive's contention.

"There are some items in the budget that are not personnel-related where we could make cuts and put it into the education budget, such as the 'rainy day' and contingency funds," he said "Obviously, we don't want to see any more employees laid off."

The council is now holding public hearings and reviewing the executive's proposed $270.3 million operating budget, which cut spending by $16 million from the current fiscal year and still increased the property tax rate by 14 cents.

Mr. Ecker noted that Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray has said that the $1 million in the newly created rainy day fund would likely be shifted to other uses because the "the rainy day is now."

"He was right in saying the rainy day is now, but it is worse than that," said Mr. Ecker. "It is a hurricane we are facing, and I hope it is not the eye of the hurricane we are in because there are projections personal income tax receipts are down 14 percent statewide, and that is not a good sign."

Mr. Ecker said he would be disappointed to see the $1 million removed from the rainy day fund, but he said the elimination of the special fund would not affect jobs.

County Budget Director Raymond S. Wacks said the executive's operating budget is "very bare bones. There is nothing left to cut in the departmental budgets that would not affect personnel in some way."

In addition to the $1 million rainy day fund, he said the executive budgeted $1.5 million in the contingency reserve to provide "some flexibility" and cover potential snow removal costs. "If we don't have money for emergencies, it could result in layoffs," Mr. Wacks said. "If the council cuts the actual departmental budgets, we would not have any option but layoffs."

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