Amid Hints Of Layoffs, Ecker Asks For Cost-cutting Ideas

Letter In Paychecks Implores Employees To 'Speak Up,' Offer Remedies

October 20, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

County Executive Charles I. Ecker put a letter in employees' paychecks Friday, telling them he does not want to use layoffs or furloughs to solve the county's budget crisis, but "they may become necessary."

Ecker asked employees to "please speak up" and share suggestions about how to reduce the costs of county government.

Specifically, Ecker wants to know what services can be eliminatedor combined, which are being duplicated and which should be reduced or eliminated first.

He asked that budget-cutting ideas be put in writing and sent department heads, County Administrator Raquel Sanudo, or him by Nov. 1.

Response to Ecker's letter was mixed.

TerryZellmer, a custodian for the county's department of general services, said she is "quite pleased that (Ecker) wants to know what it is that we see, and that he understands that we see things he doesn't."

"It is certainly good to keep us informed and let us know what's happening," accounting technician Gerri O'Reilly said. "I like his idea about getting ideas from the rank and file.

"The people responsible know where the cuts are. It is a good opportunity for us to provideinput," she said.

She said it is only common sense that employeeswould prefer top to bottom furloughs to layoffs. It is hard on departments whentrained employees are laid off, she said. Departments already are being asked to do more with fewer employees as a result earlier layoffs and budget cuts, she said.

"We were cut to the bone," she said. "Most employees can't do any more."

Employees discussing Ecker's letter at lunch Friday agreed that furloughs are preferable. Some felt that since it might be impossible to furlough everyone -- public safety employees might be exempt -- Ecker should just cut everyone's salary by 3 percent.

Others objected to that idea, saying itwould affect the base salary on which any future raises and their retirement would be based.

Many felt Ecker is going to do whatever he wants regardless of what they propose. Adding to their cynicism is a letter Ecker sent employees a year ago that was similar to the one he sent today.

"He didn't want to lay off anyone then, either, butlayoffs came," one woman said. The letter "is just not believable. Ijust wish he would do it and get it over with. People are distractedagain. Two emotional roller coasters are too much in one year."

Adding to workers' cynicism was that along with Ecker's plea for help was an announcement that employees could get half-price tickets at Disneyland. "Who's gonna have money to do that?" an employee asked.

"Why doesn't he offer incentives for some people to retire?" another said. "There are too many people at the top just hanging on."

The Ecker letter came on the same day Gov. William Donald Schaefer signeda bill that will cut another $4.1 million in state aid from the county budget. Friday's cuts are in addition to $3.9 million cut previously. The county now projects a net deficit for fiscal 1992 at $9.5 million.

County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, has scheduleda public hearing Thursday night to hear suggestions as to what to cut and what to keep in the remainder of the budget. Ecker says he plans to meet with community groups in the next few weeks to accomplish the same goal.

Meanwhile, the county hopes to go forward Tuesday with a bond-financing plan that, if successful, would raise about $2 million for the county's general fund.

If conditions are favorable, the county hopes to recoup $3.4 million altogether -- $1.9 million ingeneral revenue bonds, $1.5 million in water and sewer bonds -- though a negotiated bond refinancing sale Tuesday.

County budget administrator Raymond S. Wacks, who was in New York with County Executive Charles I. Ecker last week to work out the details of the bond sale, said the bond underwriters told the county there would have to be "a very dramatic change" for the sale not to go through.

Regardless, the situation is "very fluid," Wacks said, adding that a lot can happen before Tuesday. A slight downward shift in the market would mean the county would get less than expected from the sale but could still reap most of the anticipated savings, Wacks said.

More than fluctuating bond prices, Wacks worried that the bad news last week could bea reported increase in the rate of inflation.

During inflationarytimes, investors look to be paid a higher interest rate on bonds. Bond refinancing works only when the interest rate is significantly lower than the rate offered at the time the bonds were sold.

The situation is better through a negotiated sale than if the bonds were bid,Wacks said, because a negotiated sale allows the underwriter to waita day or two to assure advantageous conditions.

The County Council is expected to approve the bond refinancing in a special legislative session tomorrow night.

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