If the General Assembly does not ease a $23.5 million budget cut that is expected to be imposed on Baltimore County, workers will likely be given five days off without pay before June 30, according to County Executive Roger B. Hayden.
Furloughs would provide enough savings to make up only half of the cut, however, and Hayden said he hasn't yet chosen other cost-saving options from among suggestions provided by county department heads. The various options would involve reductions in service to the public, Hayden said yesterday.
Hayden and County Administrative Officer Merreen E. Kelly said the furloughs would save about $12.5 million.
Kelly said he asked the county's labor groups represent ing police, firefighters, and blue- and white-collar workers last month to choose from among three possible options -- layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts -- should the county face a worst-case scenario.
The unions all chose furloughs as the option with the least painful effects. "We hate to see anyone lose their jobs," said Edward M. Pedrick Jr., vice president of Local 921 of the county's chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "We'd rather see a couple of furlough days," he added, because it is a temporary loss and won't affect pay scales in the future as would a percentage cut in pay.
Hayden and Kelly said the furloughs would apply to county teachers. But that was disputed yesterday by Ed Veit, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, which he said was not invited to the meeting.
The school board would have to decide how to administer the cut and whether to order furloughs, he said, despite the special power that Hayden has this year to cut the school budget. The General Assembly approved a new law which gives local governments the power to cut already-approved school budgets for this year only.
Veit said he thinks the General Assembly will find a way to pay for the latest state budget shortfall without forcing a new round of cuts on the counties. "I don't think it's going to pan out," Veit said of the latest round of possible cuts announced last month.
"I think we're at the same place we were when they cut the State Police," he said of an earlier round of cuts announced by Gov. William Donald Schaefer. The legislature found ways of restoring enough money at that time to prevent any active police officers from being laid off. "This is a political football and we're right in between," Veit said of the state budget situation and the reluctance of elected officials to approve any tax increases.
County Budget Director Fred Homan said that each day of furloughs would save the county about $2.5 million. By comparison, each 1 percent cut in pay covering the period between Feb. 1 and June 30 would save $2.9 million and be much easier to administer, Homan said. Each 1 percent cut in pay would also save $6 million in next year's budget, which would cover the whole year. County workers last got a cost-of-living pay increase of 4 percent in January 1991.
Homan said that workers for the county library and community colleges, who have already suffered furloughs as the result of earlier budget cuts, would not be hit again, but their boards of trustees would have to find other ways to absorb their share of the new cuts.
He said scheduling exactly how furloughs would be applied while keeping the county operating is now being examined. Since the county has only five months of the current fiscal year to make up the shortfall, it will be hard to do.
In the latest proposal for cutting aid to the counties, Hayden and Homan said the state assigned Baltimore County an extra $2.1 million to help cushion the blow to Montgomery County, which would have faced a $35 million cut. But, because Gov. Schaefer set a limit of $25 million for any one jurisdiction, the balance has be shared by other counties.
Baltimore County already has absorbed an earlier cut of $18 million from the state, and county revenues are $15 million lower than expected this year because of the recession, Homan has said.