A Howard County council member has suggested closing down the local government for as many as five days during the holidays to save money during the current budget crunch.
Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, said yesterday that the county could save $175,000 per day in pay to employees for each day it shuts down. Police and fire services would not close, she suggested.
Pendergrass made the recommendation to County Executive Charles I. Ecker.
Later the County Council heard from county residents who gave their views on which services to cut and which to spare in the effort to offset a $9.5 million budget shortfall. Most of those speaking at the hearing told County Council members about the services that should be spared.
Ecker administration officials are asking departments to submit plans to reduce their budgets by up to 15 percent, but officials say the executive has not yet decided how to make up for the shortfall.
Pendergrass said the public would gain an appreciation of government services and notice the effect of its closing for a day near Thanksgiving, two days near Christmas and two near New Year's Day.
At last night's public hearing, the county's budget administrator outlined the extent of the shortfall, the county's second in two years, which was caused by the loss of state money and slumping tax revenues.
Janis L. Smyers, chairwoman of the citizens advisory committee to the county's Board of Education, called for a tax increase to keep services going. She criticized local elected officials for blaming the state and federal government for the county's problems.
"I don't mind that the County Council and county executive gave themselves a raise last year while the rest of the county took cuts and suffered layoffs as long as you take the money and purchase a backbone with it," Smyers told the panel.
Todd L. Brace, services supervisor for the Howard County Employment and Training Center, criticized the local teachers' union -- without naming it -- for making "threats if an increase in income is not granted."
The Howard County Education Association is asking members not to volunteer for activities in order to protest the county's decision not to fund the negotiated 6 percent raise this year.
"Make the cuts. Eliminate the services," Brace said. "It is necessary. I ask simply that it is done in an even-handed way, and that the growing number of disenfranchised still have something of a safety net."