Hayden snips at budget But employees brace for fall of the ax

October 16, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of the Sun

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden announced plans yesterday to start digging the county out of a $26.8 million hole caused by state budget cuts and the recession.

But the austerity measures the executive outlined -- principally leaving 300 funded positions open -- would save only $6 million.

Mr. Hayden said additional cuts -- including reducing snow removal and the number of police officers -- are being considered to save the rest.

The county government faces a $17.8 million cut in state aid and a $9 million loss because of sagging tax revenues. Income tax receipts fell $6 million short, and title transfer taxes were $3 million below expectations because of the recession, said budget director Fred Homan.

In his State of the County address to the county council yesterday, Mr. Hayden said layoffs will not be necessary unless the state makes more cuts.

However, he said, he could not rule out such cuts.

"There is a chance" state officials "are going to come back at us again," Mr. Hayden said later in a meeting with about 250 of the county's 8,000 employees.

The announcement failed to reassure county employees about their job security.

"Eventually there's going to be something that happens that hits the workers," said Dennis Badders, 37, of Maryland Line, who has a wife and two children and earns $22,000-a-year as a heavy equipment operator.

Mr. Hayden said the county would not hire 300 workers funded in the current $1.1 billion budget for a savings of $5.8 million.

He said the county's $11 million surplus puts it "in a better position" to handle the revenue cuts the governor and General Assembly agreed to last week. But he said he would rather not use the entire surplus to make up the shortfall because that would threaten the AAA bond rating, which makes it cheaper for the county to borrow money.

"The remaining shortfall will have to be taken care of through cuts in the department budgets, the specifics of which have not yet been decided," he said.

The county may save $120,000 on telephone service by knocking out supplementary phone lines, he said.

He also said the number of county cars going home with county employees will be reduced from 468 to 259, to save $300,000.

Neither John Lutz, head of the county Department of Central Services, nor Mr. Hayden could say whose cars would be cut.

"At this point, the department heads don't even know," Mr. Lutz said.

The county also may sell as many as 55 dump trucks and other heavy equipment vehicles, but it was not clear how much money that would raise, Mr. Homan said.

But all of those savings fall far short of the $26.8 million deficit, and some council members said they were troubled by Mr. Hayden's lack of specifics.

"I would assume that he has some strategy to address the problem, but it wasn't in this address," said Councilman Vincent Gardina, D-5th.

"All it's saying in the short term is we're saving a minimum amount of money by doing a Band-Aid approach," he said. "It doesn't address the $27 million that has to be cut."

Mr. Hayden said departments have been asked to come up with 3 percent reductions in their budgets, which would reduce spending by about $10 million. But he would not say if those cuts actually will be made, and he prohibited department heads yesterday from releasing their proposed trims.

Mr. Homan said decisions on department cuts will be made in the next couple of weeks, but that releasing each department's proposals would be misleading because they are only now being analyzed and discussed.

"What you're talking about is a laundry list," Mr. Homan said. "You're going to reject some proposals and you're going to accept some proposals."

Mr. Hayden said he is considering reducing snow removal on secondary roads and delaying induction of a police academy class of 36 recruits slated to start six months of training in November for a savings of $600,000.

He said he would try to avoid reducing the number of uniformed police officers on the streets, even if it means putting higher-ranking supervisory personnel or officers assigned to administrative functions on the streets.

E. Jay Miller, a county police spokesman, said delaying the class will eventually mean fewer police officers because it will mean fewer trainees graduating next year.

The department already is short-handed, with only 1,541 of the 1,581 police officers it is authorized to have, Mr. Miller said.

"We're handling it now, and we will continue to handle it," he said.

Mr. Hayden said he plans to use a controversial bill passed Friday by the General Assembly that will enable the county government to cut education spending.

Mr. Hayden, a former school board president, was elected last fall after he criticized the incumbent for trying to control the schools by seeking authority to appoint county school board members.

But he said yesterday that he favors the spending law because it gives him more authority over the half of the county budget that makes up education spending.

School Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel was unavailable yesterday, but George Poff, director of intergovernmental relations for the schools, said he was surprised by Mr. Hayden's position.

"We're waiting to hear from his office," he said.

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