Neall's Proposed Pay Cut Gets A Cool Reception

October 13, 1991|By Elise Armacost and Paul Shread | Elise Armacost and Paul Shread,Staff writers

County labor leaders waited until he was out of the room to say so, but they aren't willing to pay the price County Executive Robert R. Neall insists is necessary if Anne Arundel is to survive massive reductions in state aid.

Late Friday afternoon, Neall told representatives from each of the county's six labor unions that he wants all county employees -- himself included -- to take a minimum 4 percent pay cut for the rest of fiscal 1992. That would cover the $7.9 million Anne Arundel would lose under the governor's plan to reduce a $450 million state budget deficit.

The General Assembly approved the plan Friday night.

Neall already has sliced $10 million from the county budget to meet an earlierround of state budget cuts.

"We are in the gravest times I can ever remember," he said at the union meeting. "I want to get everybody to the table, so we can make an equitable distribution of the misery."

In passing the budget reduction plan, the General Assembly also approved Neall's controversial request to give local governments the authority to cut money from the budgets of the Board of Education, libraries and community colleges. Local governments were given that authority only until June 30, 1992, the end of the fiscal year.

Statelaw prohibits counties from making cuts to those budgets. Without the amendment, introduced by Sen. John A. Cade, R-Severna Park, in the Senate and Delegate John G. Gary, R-Millersville, in the House, Neallwould have had to ask those groups to agree to budget reductions. Had they refused, Neall said, other county employees would have had to take pay cuts as high as 9 percent.

"Fifty-seven percent of the county's budget is education," Neall told the unions. "If we hold that sacrosanct, it means we have to take $8 million from the general government side. It's in everybody's interest, all across the state, to redo the budget."

Union leaders took news of the pay cuts quietly, saying they will hold emergency meetings with members early this week.

But after the meeting, union representatives said they are not convinced all the fat has been trimmed from the budget and are not ready to agree to wage concessions.

"At this point, we can't talk wage concessions," said Carol Buttrum, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 2563, which represents 370 clerical and technical workers.

"We gave up going to thetable last year and gave up an increase. It's very premature to say we'd accept concessions. We have to do some looking around" for wastein the budget, Buttrum said.

But Neall said there is no more waste to cut. "I don't have any other alternative. Beyond wage concessions, if we do not have the money necessary to execute the rest of the budget, we have to start looking at layoffs."

At a meeting with County Council members Friday afternoon, Neall said he would need to layoff 500 to 600 people to make up the $7.9 million. There are 4,000 county workers, plus 6,000 school employees and 700 library and community college employees.

The executive promised to take more than 4 percent from his own salary and asked his cabinet members to absorb alarger pay reduction. County Council members volunteered to cut their pay by more than 4 percent.

"Maybe as elected officials, we should take more of a hit," said Councilman Edward Middlebrooks, D-Severn.

Council members supported the wage concessions and said they opposed layoffs. Neall said he wants to avoid layoffs at all cost, so county services aren't damaged.

Budget officer Dennis Parkinson saidlaid-off employees would have to be rehired under the County Charter. "When you bring back the people you've laid off, they really don't have the proper attitude to serve the public," he said.

The amendment allowing him to cut the education budget was crucial, Neall said.Not only does he intend to make the 4 percent wage cuts, but he wants to reopen the budget process for all departments, including education.

Leaders of the school community are furious at what they see as a power grab by Neall.

"He certainly is going too far. He wants 100 percent control of something not within his control," school board member Maureen Carr-York said. "We have consistently tried to work with him during these tough financial times. When he asked us to cut $5 million from our already tight budget, we did everything we could to go along, even though we are not obligated by law to do so."

Neall said the total amount of the state cuts to Anne Arundel remains unknown, since it is not clear how much the county will have to help social programs that lost money in the two rounds of state reductions.Drug and alcohol treatment centers, for example, lost half their state funding.

While he could not promise to keep those programs alive, Neall said he will try to replace as much money as possible to ensure their survival.

Between now and January, Neall said, he would examine the budget to see what else could be cut, should the county be asked to sustain another reduction in aid.

He said he expects the budget picture to be even bleaker when fiscal 1993 starts next July1. However, he had no doubts that Anne Arundel will be able to survive, once it makes the $7.9 million reduction.

"If we can succeed in this, Anne Arundel County is going to make it," he said.

Staff reporters Dianne Williams Hayes and John A. Morris contributed to thisstory.

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