Howard Co. hopes refinancing helps to lessen pain of budget cuts Layoffs may loom, Ecker warns

October 17, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

Howard County expects to cut $2 million from its $9.5 million shortfall by refinancing up to $96 million in debt at lower interest rates.

However, layoffs may still be necessary to balance the budget, County Executive Charles I. Ecker said this week.

Mr. Ecker and Council Chairman Vernon C. Gray, D-3rd, discussed the refinancing plans upon their return from New York, where they prepared for a major bond refinancing next week.

While refinancing will reduce the shortfall, Mr. Ecker said, it will not stave off a "redefining of government with the cutback and elimination of services."

Raymond S. Wacks, the county budget officer, said local government is to be cut 10 percent to 15 percent in the latest round of budget trimming.

In June, with the County Council's support, Mr. Ecker cut 12 percent from the operating expenses for fiscal 1992, which began July 1. As a result, the current $270 million budget is $16 million less than the budget for fiscal 1991.

"The county government is wary that there will be even further cuts announced by the state later because the state deficit is likely to be greater than the $450 million now projected," he said.

"I want to make layoffs the last thing we do," said Mr. Ecker, who pared 40 employees in June. Eleven were rehired in new jobs. "But I don't think I can avoid layoffs or furloughs."

Mr. Ecker said he expected to announce his budget cuts in two weeks and submit them to the council. The cuts stem from an anticipated $5.5 million decrease in state aid, a projected $1 million shortfall in tax revenues and the $3 million fiscal 1991 deficit.

The county will hold a public hearing on budget cuts at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24.

Mr. Gray said the council will evaluate all the services provided by the county government during the budget-cutting process. He said he also wants Mr. Ecker to say which employees are to be laid off when the budget cuts are submitted to the council.

"It is clear we will not be able to do what the government did in the days of expansion in the '80s," Mr. Gray said. "We will have to take a serious look at what government can best provide and what should be left for the private sector to do -- from street-sweeping on down."

He said the county government "can not evade its responsibility in human services, police, fire and education. But we don't have the resources to address expectations of what would be nice for government to do. We have to look at real needs."

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