Ecker Likely To Implement Furloughs, Not Layoffs

November 17, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

County Executive Charles I. Ecker will attempt to ease the county's financial crisis by furloughing county employees for five days ratherthan laying off workers, a county administration source said Friday.

Ecker will reveal his plans for coping with the county's $9.5 million deficit Tuesday at a 10 a.m. press conference.

It is likely that the furlough for the county's 1,650 full-time employees will come on holidays when county offices would already be closed, according to the source, who asked not to be identified. In effect, the furlough plan means employees would receive five unpaid holidays.

The County Council will have a public hearing on a furloughbill tomorrow night. Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray said he prefersall employees to be furloughed on the same days. He suggests Dec. 23, 26, and Jan. 2 as three of the five possibilities.

Regardless ofwhich days are chosen, Gray, D-3rd, wants the 2 percent to 2 1/2 percent loss in pay that employees will suffer as a result of the furloughs deducted throughout the year rather than taken all at once.

Gray said he will deduct the five furlough days from his salary and return it to the county. He said he plans to invite Ecker and his fellowcouncil members to do the same.

Council member Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, is already doing a great deal more than that. Farragut is returning $9,500 to the county this fiscal year -- the difference betweenthe $18,000 paid to council members elected in 1986 and the $27,500 paid to members elected in 1990.

This marks the third time this year that Ecker has had to adjust the budget to deal with an impending financial crisis. Until the most recent round of state cuts in local aid, Ecker said he thought the county could scrape by without furloughs or further layoffs.

The $4.1 million state cut that came Oct. 18 left him no choice, however, but to lay off or furlough personnel, he told employees in a letter that day. In the letter, Ecker asked employees for advice on handling the most recent crisis.

Employees responded that furloughs or salary cuts are preferable to layoffs. Ecker opted for furloughs because salary cuts would have reduced the amount on which employee pensions are based.

Al White, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees localrepresenting 300 blue-collar workers in the Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments, said Ecker told him county employees wouldbe safe from layoffs unless there was another shortfall.

White, who has been meeting regularly with Ecker over the past several monthsboth privately and with other government union leaders, said he has continually emphasized support for furloughs "provided there were no layoffs."

"There's no more money out there," White said. "This is the most equitable solution. We're just trying to keep people on the payroll and keep them working. This (crisis) is not exactly Dr. Ecker's


One of the first things Ecker learned on taking office in December was that there would be an $18 million shortfall in the fiscal 1991 budget. The county had begun fiscal 1991 with a $25 million surplus.

To meet a vastly reduced fiscal 1992 budget, Ecker raised property taxes, laid off 40 employees, eliminated raises and reduced services by 12 percent. Since the beginning of the fiscal year July 1, the county budget has taken four more large hits.

The current $9.5 million deficit came about after the state, suffering its own financial crisis, twice cut county aid.

Also, revenue from the county's share of the state income tax were less than expected, and the county was forced to borrow $3 million from this year's budget to balance the fiscal 1991 budget.

Although Ecker did not guarantee there would be no layoffs this fiscal yar, he did "give every assurancethat they would not come unless there is a drastic change," White said.

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