The county that just finished laying off 40 people, freezing salaries and slashing its budget felt flush enough yesterday to give more than 1,400 employees Friday off.
The cost of a day off with pay for most Howard County employees: about $200,000, according to County Administrator Raquel Sanudo.
County Executive Charles I. Ecker said he wanted to give employees a four-day weekend for the Fourth of July to boost morale.
But some union representatives questioned whether the day off would make up for last month's layoffs and the decision to freeze the salaries of police officers, teachers, firefighters and other workers.
Dale L. Hill, president of the Howard County Police Officers' Association, called the day off "a nice gesture."
"But I don't think it will calm the waves for our people who lost money in their paychecks on the first of the month," he said.
Marius Ambrose, director of the Howard County Education Association, had the same reaction to Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's decision to give 12-month school system employees the day off as well.
Mr. Ecker said he gave county employees the day off after a workerpointed out that they deserved it after losing their pay increases.
"And I did it because it's silly to open up the building for one day," he said. "But I thought it would be good for morale. That was the bottom line."
But Jonathan Hall, an engineer with the county for 16 years before being laid off last month, said the $200,000 should have been used to avert layoffs.
"It just doesn't sit well," said Mr. Hall, who made $41,000 a year. "With that kind of money, I could have kept my job for a while longer. That's five years of employment for me."
But many county employees thought it was a great idea.
"I'll never complain," said Ann Ryder, an information and referral specialist. "I think it's delightful."
Barbara Russell, a legislative analyst for the Howard County Council, said the day off made sense.
Many employees had already made plans to be off, and the county would waste money on air conditioning with so few employees working. Besides, she said, many constituents who would normally come to the building for services would most likely take the day off as well.
"I think that this decision was good from just about every point of view," she said. "It's a no-lose decision."