Neall Goes On Tragical Misery Tour Seeking Pay Cuts

Exec Tells County Workers Alternative Is 400 Layoffs

October 23, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

Standing on a picnic table, in the middle of a parking lot and in a basement room, County Executive Robert R. Neall yesterday faced hundreds of county workers wanting to know why they should pay to keep Anne Arundel in the black.

County employees had plenty of questions for Neall, but the most common and loudly voiced was: "Why isn't everybody in the county sharing in the burden?"

"Let him go to the voters," said one angry civilian police worker, just before Neall spoke to a boisterous crowd of 300 to 400 employees in the parking lot of the fire training center in Millersville.

"You don't cut public safety and public services and teaching. Let him ask for a penny tax increase. It's not fair to use this hostage situation. He might as well hold a gun to our heads."

To make up a $7.9 million budget shortfall, Neall is asking everyone who draws a county paycheck to accept a 3.6 percent pay cut for the next seven months or risk layoffs. He has already stripped $10 million from the non-personnel side of the budget and says there is nothing left to cut.

Starting at the Arundel Center North in Glen Burnie, where he stoodon a picnictable in front of the building to be heard over the traffic and the crowd, Neall encouraged county workers to "stick together as a family" and get through the fiscal crisis.

County department heads already are having 5 percent cut out of their pay, Neall said, while he himself has taken a $5,000 -- or a 12 percent -- hit.

Wage reductions, he said, "are the cleanest, fairest, most equitable andleast disruptive way to make up this shortfall." If no one opts for concessions, 400 to 600 people will be laid off, he said.

Though layoffs are the quickest and easiest way to raise cash, "It's in nobody's interest to do that," Neall said. "I don't want to do that because I care about the people who work for Anne Arundel County. I don't want to decimate 400 to 600 families."

In Glen Burnie, where Neall met with some disagreement but little heckling, veteran parks and recreation employee Mike Rash said he'd brave the wrath of fellow union members to support Neall's plan. "I will tear up my union card tomorrow," he said. "I will gladly give up 3 percent to make sure nobody loses his job."

Inspections worker Ed Ehatt said he'd rather take unpaid holidays -- an optionsuggested by Neall, especially for those nearing retirement -- than a temporary pay cut. "In my opinion, you never get back a wage cut," Ehatt said.

In Millersville, a crowd composed largely of fire and police employees balked at concessions, period. They wanted to know why Neall can't either raid the county utility fund, which shows a surplus; scuttle capital projects; borrow moneyto get through the crisis; or raise taxes.

Neall's answers:

* The utilities department operates as an independent agency. By law, its fund cannot be touched.

* Capital building projects have been cut back, but only those which do not increase the tax base. Cut all capital projects and unemployment goes up while revenues go down, Neall said.

* Short-term borrowing works only if you know you'll have money to pay off the debt tomorrow. "If we start to use gimmicks and short-term borrowing, we are doomed," he said.

* This year's property tax bills have all been mailed. Even if taxes could be raised, itwould take an 8-cent increase to equal the $7.9 million the county needs.

By the end of the week, Neall said, his staff will provide the six county and four school unions with figures showing how much ofa pay cut each would have to sustain to effect the $7.9 million savings, compared with the number of layoffs needed to garner the same savings.

Workers have two weeks to decide. No union opting for wage concessions will suffer layoffs,Neall said.

The only employees Neall cannot lay off are classroom teachers. If education workers refusewage concessions, Neall said, he would cut enough non-instructional positions and materials to make up the difference, "and they'll have to eat it."

Non-unionized and contractual workers will be given the same information. Contractual workers will not automatically be eliminated to save unionized workers from pay cuts or layoffs, Neall said -- a fact that infuriated the labor-dominated Millersville group.

That was good news, however, to about 200 county health department workers who met with Neall in the basement of the Health Department in Annapolis. Most of the 100 nurses, physical and occupational therapists, drug-prevention workers and sanitarians work on a contractual basis, said County Health Officer Thomas Andrews.

If layoffs occur,Neall said, contractual and non-represented employees would be eliminated based on function and importance. Most unionized workers would be let go on the basis on seniority, according to the terms of their contracts.

By Nov. 14, Neall must introduce a new budget bill to the County Council, complete with the necessary cuts. Three public hearings on the new budget are scheduled during November. The council will vote on the new budget Dec. 2, which will then take effect immediately.

Neall said he intends to restore the pay scale on July 1, 1992, the start of the new fiscal year -- if the economy improves.

Staff writer JoAnna Daemmrich contributed to this story

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