Ecker plans layoffs to help reduce Howard deficit

November 06, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker plans to lay off fewer than 100 employees to help ease a $7.5 million deficit, despite pleas from the County Council's Democratic majority.

Mr. Ecker, a Republican, said yesterday that he wants to "reduce the budget more than the dollars we need now because I don't want to go through this three or four more times in the future."

Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, one of three Democrats on the five-member council, said layoffs were not "the right way to go" because the economy could pick up. But Councilman Darrel E. Drown, R-2nd, supported layoffs, saying the cost of government should be reduced because the economy may worsen.

Mr. Ecker was uncertain how many layoffs he would include on Nov. 19, when he formally announces budget cuts, but he predicted it would be fewer than 100. He does not need the council's approval to make the cuts.

The first-term executive laid off 40 employees last spring. Eleven have been rehired for other jobs.

He said he will lay off employees in jobs where there is duplication, and "mid-management people when it will not hurt services."

"My goal is to streamline government and reduce and eliminate some services," he said.

Mr. Ecker said he still plans to furlough employees for an undetermined period and provide incentives for early retirement. The school board has agreed to cut the deficit by returning $3 million to the county.

Mr. Ecker said he is "debating" whether to make the cuts on his own or send the council a new budget, which would give council members a vote on the reductions.

On another budget-cutting matter, Mr. Ecker said he wants to phase out the county's $1.6 million subsidy of fire and rescue service and is considering taking money from the fire tax contingency funds this fiscal year.

"The fire tax should pay for the entire fire and rescue service," he said, noting that he met with the county's volunteer fire chiefs Monday night "hoping to seek their acquiescence." Deputy Fire Chief James E. Heller said their reaction was mixed.

The county's fire district tax pays for volunteer fire companies and 180 paid firefighters at 10 stations -- the bulk of the $12.8 million fire and rescue service budget. But the county's general fund, which comes primarily from property and income tax revenues, contributes $1.6 million to cover administrative costs.

Mr. Ecker wants the fire tax to cover those costs, too.

The fire tax varies among the county's six fire districts from 16 cents to 23 cents per $100 of assessed property value. Howard's property tax is $2.59 per $100 of assessed value.

Mr. Ecker also proposed taking an unspecified amount from the $500,000 contingency funds supported by the fire tax. He said he was not certain if that would require council approval, but using fire tax revenues to finance administrative costs would be subject to a council vote.

Mr. Heller said a 3-cent increase in the fire tax would be required to cover the administrative expenses.

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