Arundel offers unions choice of bitter fiscal remedies

October 26, 1991|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Anne Arundel Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall unveiled a $20.8 million budget-cutting plan yesterday with an unpleasant choice for county workers: take a 3 percent pay cut, a five-day furlough, or else face at least 322 layoffs.

"We're trying to keep the county solvent and we're trying to continue to accomplish our mission," Mr. Neall said. "The object of this exercise is to be in the black on June 30,"the last day of the fiscal year.

County officials said the cuts in the $616.6 million budget were necessitated primarily by a drop in state aid. The $450 million in budget reductions approved by the General Assembly two weeks ago to balance Maryland's budget reduced aid to Anne Arundel by $7.9 million, on top of a previous $9.3 million cut.

Mr. Neall briefed union representatives yesterday on his proposal and gave them until next Friday to indicate their preference -- the seven-month 3 percent pay cut, layoffs or the furloughs, under which workerswould not be paid for five previously paid holidays or would work five days without pay.

Midlevel managers who are not represented by a union have been given a one-page survey with identical choices.

If unions do not indicate a preference, "we will put them down as layoffs," Mr. Neall warned.

The Republican county executive also announced a plan to reorganize the executive staff, reducing the number of appointees from 27 to 20 at a savings of about $600,000 a year. He has already taken a 7 percent cut in his own pay -- from $75,000 to roughly $70,000 -- and temporarily reduced his staff members' salaries by 5 percent.

Mr. Neall's cost-savings plan includes an additional $5.1 million cut to the public school system, which already had agreed to reduce its budget by a similar amount. The school system accounts for more than half of the county's budget.

The cut is calculated on an assumption that the school board will pass along to its employees the same choices of a 3 percent wage cut, furloughs or layoffs.

Mr. Neall said he plans to allow the school board to make its own choices. But if the board opts to reduce teaching positions or to cut services such as athletics or other extra-curricular activities, "I intend to use my persuasive powers on them," he said.

Those persuasive powers were augmented considerably by the legislature in its recent budget bill. At Mr. Neall's request, an amendment was added giving county leaders broad power to rewrite school budgets and ignore union contracts to keep local government in the black.

BTC Anne Arundel's union leaders said they are opposed to wage concessions of any kind but admit Mr. Neall has given them little choice.

"He's got us feeling between a rock and a hard place," said one union head who declined to be identified. "He's been about three steps ahead of everyone."

Thomas J. Paolino, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said Mr. Neall's plan unfairly places the burden of the budget crisis on the county's 11,000 employees rather than reduce services to the county's 427,239 residents.

"They need to look at programs and services, not employees," Mr. Paolino said..

"If the public wants a top educational system and they want full services, then everyone must be willing to share the burden," he said.

Union leaders point out, for instance, that a seven-month 3 percent wage cut places a greater burden on lower-income employees: a $20,000 worker losing $312 may feel the effects more than a $40,000-a-year manager who losing $682.

Mr. Neall said the cut is fair and he does not intend to negotiate it.

"The people I represent start at a salary of $13,300," said Carol A. Buttrum, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2563, which represents 369 clerical employees. "If you're one of the people in those categories and live from paycheck to paycheck, it's going to hurt."

Nevertheless, wage concessions account for only about one-third of the cuts Mr. Neall proposed.

The county has already cut such categories as travel, supplies and contracts.

Under Mr. Neall's proposal, money previously appropriated for some capital construction, grants for culture and the arts, and staff automobiles also would be reduced.

The county executive warned that he expects Gov. William Donald Schaefer to seek further reductions in local aid before the end of the fiscal year. As a result, Mr. Neall refused to guarantee that he won't ask for additional wage concessions from county workers.

The budget unveiled by Mr. Neall yesterday will be presented to the County Council next month. The five-member council has until Dec. 2 to act on it.

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