Ron DuPree took time off from his job at the University of Maryland downtown to pay a parking ticket in Towson, but the tall black doors to the old courthouse in the Baltimore County seat were inexplicably locked.
"I don't like it," Mr. DuPree of Owings Mills said after he learned the county government was closed yesterday for the first of five unpaid furlough days.
"I took comp time for this. I'd rather be at work," he added, muttering under his breath as he walked away.
Scott Pettersen had to delay his company's construction of a day-care center in Randallstown when he was unable to straighten out some problems with his plumbing license because the county Department of Permits and Licenses was closed.
And Kurt Rupprecht, 25, drove all the way from Bel Air to check on a piece of property he is interested in buying, only to find the county office building doors locked -- with no sign explaining why.
If the government closed, would anyone notice? Apparently, they would.
Baltimore County, like other metropolitan area counties and state government, is furloughing 8,000 employees for five days through the spring to save $5.2 million. Yesterday was the first of those days off.
Another $7.8 million will be cut from school salary budget accounts, but Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel has not yet ordered teacher furloughs in the hope that the General Assembly will rescind the cuts.
The next furlough day is Monday, President's Day, which is a county and state holiday anyway, so employees simply won't get paid for it. The other days are March 25, Maryland Day; April 17, Good Friday; and May 25, Memorial Day.
Baltimore County so far has lost $57 million from a combination of state budget cuts and less revenue coming in due to the recession. Because the county cannot raise taxes in the middle of a budget year, cuts and furloughs were the only choices short of layoffs, which have been avoided, county officials said. The budget year ends June 30.
County Executive Roger B. Hayden spent his furlough day in Annapolis lobbying legislators for greater understanding of the county's plight, he said.
Not everyone inconvenienced by yesterday's furlough was upset. "I think it's good. They should be furloughed. It saves money," said Towson lawyer Nicholas Young, who visited county offices yesterday to get lien papers from the tax office only to find the building closed.
Emergency services in the county remain open on the furlough days, but police and firefighters also will lose five paid days through the budget year.
Officer Dave Jacoby, of the Towson precinct, said he's already had one day off without pay, which he took as an extra leave day. He spent it working around the house. "Our contract says we don't get furloughed," he said, adding that he hopes to get his pay back when a grievance the police have filed with the county goes to arbitration.
County workers were naturally unhappy about losing pay, but many said they welcomed any action that forestalled layoffs.
Melvin Rosier, 33, a county highway worker, was just planning to stay home on his furlough day. "That's all we can afford to do. I'm not happy about it. It's going to hurt, but it beats getting laid off," he said Tuesday at the county's heavy equipment repair garages in Texas.
Mel Bauernfind, a county mechanic, said he can ill afford to lose the roughly $100 his day off will cost him.
"I got some personal work to do, but I'd rather be here, being paid," he said.
"They could cut [administrators in] Towson, instead of us blue-collar people," he said, reasoning that higher-paid workers can better afford to lose a day's pay than mechanics who make $26,500 a year. Many mechanics, he said, work a second job after their county job is over at 3:30 p.m. to make ends meet.
Paul Leono, a crew chief with 16 years of county work behind him, said he was spending his furlough day helping his brother-in-law lay a tile floor in his basement. The day off would cost him between $125 and $150, he said.
"My taxes aren't going down either," he said, referring to tax protesters who want more county budget cuts.
Anne Arundel County: Teachers postponed four furlough days until April. Other county employees took 3 percent pay cuts instead of furloughs.
Baltimore: Five furlough days on holidays, although fire employees this week won an injunction blocking their furlough.
Baltimore County: Five furlough days for non-school employees -- yesterday, Monday, March 25, April 17 and May 25. Schools delaying non-paid days, but announced last week they might make snow days retroactive furlough days so students wouldn't miss extra school. Today was one of those days.
Carroll County: Two furlough days for all county workers on April 17 and May 25. Also, workers making more than $20,000 choose two more furlough days. School employees, not including cafeteria workers, have two furlough days, Jan. 24 and June 18.
Howard County: Four furlough days for non-school workers, already taken Christmas week and Jan. 20. Workers making less than $20,440 got paid Jan. 20.
Harford County: No furlough days.
State government: Five furlough days.