Localities look for new places to pare

October 30, 1991|By From Staff Reports Dennis O'Brien, Martin C. Evans, Michael J. Clarke, Tom Bowman and Sandra Crockett of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article. ibB

Struggling to slash their budgets without devastating basic services, local officials in Baltimore and Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery counties are considering everything from early retirement incentives to layoffs to tax increases.

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden plans to partially stem a $26.8 million budget shortfall by encouraging early retirement among the county's 8,000 workers.

Mr. Hayden, who faces the shortfall because of state budget cuts and declining tax revenues, announced yesterday a retirement plan that will allow 897 employees of any age with 25 years of service or those at least age 50 with 20 years service to receive bonuses of 5 percent of their annual salary if they retire before Jan. 31, 1992.

They also will receive the same health benefits as current retirees, regardless of years of service.

The plan must be approved by the County Council Nov. 4.

The county school system has filled only teacher and teacher aide vacancies and limited maintenance positions.

In an Oct. 22 letter to principals and office managers, Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel sought "imaginative and sacrificial" ideas for absorbing the $3.1 million cut in state aid.

Dr. Dubel, who is out of town, wrote that building temperatures will be held at 65 degrees and "severe" restrictions have been placed on staff travel. But, he said, those cuts "will not do the job."


In Baltimore, unions representing roughly 4,500 police and fire personnel are pressing Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to embrace an early retirement plan that union leaders say will help close a massive gap in the city budget without layoffs in the two city agencies.

The plan, submitted to the mayor Thursday, could induce as many as 500 or more senior employees to retire early by offering them a lump sum portion of the contributions made to their pension fund during the span of their careers, union officials said.

The mayor -- who has ordered cuts in virtually all corners of city government to make up for a $25 million cut in state aid -- is expected to decide on a budget-cutting strategy for the departments by next week.

Under the so-called return of contribution plan -- or ROC -- employees also would receive their regular pension benefits. Union officials say the plan would pay for itself because the city would be able to replace older, higher-paid workers with lower-wage newcomers.

A similar union proposal was rejected earlier this month by city Finance Director William Brown, who said the plan would cost Baltimore too much money.

Fire union officials have been particularly concerned about the possibility of layoffs since Fire Chief Peter J. O'Connor, ordered by the mayor to trim $3.5 million from the Fire Department budget, drafted plans that anticipate laying off as many as 250 firefighters and closing as many as a dozen fire stations.

Although Mr. Schmoke has said he is not considering layoffs in the Police Department in the current round of budget cuts, police union officials said they favor the early retirement incentive as a way of avoiding the need for layoffs should the budget noose get tighter.

Montgomery County

In Rockville, the Montgomery County Council last night narrowly passed a budget ceiling for next year that calls for a variety of tax increases along with service cuts and likely layoffs of county workers, the "worst of both worlds," said one council member.

The $1.55 billion budget guideline for the fiscal year starting in July would provide $103 million less than is needed to provide current services, said officials, who added that county employee furloughs and layoffs, along with fewer services, would ensue.

The budget ceiling, approved 5-4, also assumes tax increases and state aid that several council members said is overly optimistic and unlikely to win final approval from either the council or the state legislature.

Included is a property tax increase that would add about $165 per household, an income tax boost of about $103 per household and a rise in the energy tax that would translate into about $84 per household.

The County Council, which will vote on final budget recommendations in the spring, would have to approve the property tax rise by a majority of seven votes.

The budget ceiling vote came amid a backdrop of a sleep-in by about 100 county workers who urged the council to approve higher taxes rather than further budget cuts.

Several dozen bleary-eyed workers stayed for the final vote, hissing and applauding the comments from council members.

Howard County

Faced with cutting $3.9 million from a $180.7 million budget, the Howard County school board agreed to a series of austerity measures that would not affect class size or result in layoffs.

In a presentation to the school board, Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said he could squeeze $1.7 million out of the budget by hedging fuel costs, conserving energy and shifting excess money out of the school system's self-insured medical plan.

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