Local police and firefighters, bitter about the recommendation to furlough county public safety employees, say that they can't live with wage cuts and that citizen protection should not suffer from the budget ax.
Outrage among some police officers is so high that the county police union has called a meeting for tomorrow night to vote on whether layoffs would be preferred over furloughs.
"There are a significant amount of people who would prefer layoffs," said Dale Hill, president of the Howard County Police Officers Association.
If officers vote for layoffs, Hill said, he will take the recommen
dation to the County Council, which is scheduled to vote on the furlough plan Dec. 2.
"I've been approached by people who say losing more pay will have a devastating effect on their family lives," Hill said. "Layoffs may be devastating and no one would like to see them, but the fact is, they affect the minority and not the majority."
The bulk of the Howard County fire and rescue services department will also be meeting tonight to discuss an amendment to County Executive Charles I. Ecker's furlough proposal. The amendment would exempt firefighters from furloughs, since fire and rescue services employees are paid out of a fire tax fund and not the county general fund.
"I don't think you can just blatantly cut all departments equally. You've got to prioritize it somehow," said Lt. Michael Dorsey,who heads an association of 29 firefighter administrators.
"We'refunded through our own tax structure. In that light, we should not be asked to take furloughs; we'd have to cut services," Dorsey said.
Sean Kelly, president of the firefighters union, said he expects that he will present a nearly unanimous vote of support for the amendment to Ecker and the County Council. "No money is gained or saved by furloughing a firefighter," he said.
Kelly said he also expected that fire and rescue service would have to be cut back, although how much is still uncertain. But "losing people is always a concern. If somebody has a heart attack in a neighborhood where we're already out ona call, we want to be able to have available people to send."
However, Darl R. McBride, chief of the county fire and rescue services, said he expects that he will be able to reorganize schedules so that public safety services will not have to be cut back.
Some scheduling changes could make up for the service time lost from furloughs, and some officers would likely be asked to give up holiday pay rather than miss work, McBride said.
"This is a better option than layoffs. I don't think there's any question," McBride said.
Police Chief James N. Robey, who said he favors furloughs over layoffs, also assured the public that manpower would not diminish from the furlough plan.
"Obviously we're not going to shut down on those days. Our road strength will be maintained," he said. "What we may have to do is staff our road patrols with some of the guys from our specialty sections," such as the crime prevention or youth services divisions.
Police union officials say that budget cuts imposed on the department lastyear -- in which officers lost merit pay increases and other perks -- should be considered before imposing more wage cutting.
Ecker said he stands firm on his decision to "furlough across the board."
"Everyone, no matter what budget they're appropriated out of, should have to pay some share of the burden," he said. "Everyone will be furloughed, including me."