With a county budget that is expected to produce $10 million in surplus or reserves, Harford County employees deserve a pay raise, or at least a one-time bonus of $200 each, to show good faith. Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson says.
Despite County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's pledge of no pay raises in the next fiscal year - in exchange for a promise of no furloughs or layoffs - Wilson said the county government should reward its employees instead of spending money on new buildings.
"Instead of building these TaJ Mahals or Great Pyramids. I'd rather have first-rate county employees." he told a group of labor union leaders Tuesday.
"Our first priority should be to build on our human resources," he said. A $200 non-repeating bonus for next year would not bust the budget, he said, but would "show the good faith of Harford County as an employer to the people who work for us."
Pay for some 3,600 county and school board employees was frozen this fiscal year, and Rehrmann has said the same would be true for the budget year that begins July 1.
Wilson said the county will set aside about $6.5 million in reserves this year to preserve its credit rating with bond under-writers and will end up with an additional $6.5 million surplus by June 30.
"Don't roll over and play dead [on pay freezes]," Wilson told the union representatives. "The money may be there for you."
But he and other Harford officials acknowledge that the county's financial outlook for 1992-1993 will become clearer only after the General Assembly finishes its work on the state budget next month.
Wilson recently chided the school board for reneging on a pay increase negotiated with county teachers for next year. one that would restore step increases and grant 3 percent raises across the board. The board reversed itself and approved the pay raise. which the county executive can still turn down.
That action raised concerns among other groups of county employees that they might take a second year's pay freeze while teachers received raises of as much as 10 per-cent.
Wilson's suggestion of a token-but-equal pay bonus for next year aims to address those concerns while minimizing the budget impact. Several union contracts have equalization clauses, which give them benefits granted to other bargaining groups.
"We want everyone treated fairly and, as dollars become available to the county, to share those funds equally among employees," said Thomas Kelleher of the American Federation of State. County and Municipal Employees. AFSCME has labor contracts for nearly 700 school board and county government workers.
Despite pay freezes, Harford public employees recognize the county government's efforts to avoid layoffs, he said. "In these difficult times, protecting Jobs and public services is the most important thing."
To avoid discontent among county workers over unequal pay and benefit contracts in the future, Kelleher suggested that Harford County name a labor commissioner or other Official to coordinate bargaining with labor unions.
As the county Continues to grow, it should look to Baltimore and Baltimore County, he said, which have labor offices to coordinate negotiations with public employees.
The head of the county teachers union said it did not expect to gain pay raises at the expense of other government workers.
"Teachers don't want to see other county workers cut back either,- said Christine Haggett, president of the Harford County Education Association.
But she noted that "each union exists to protect its own members, even if we get together on some things."
Regardless of any pay increases negotiated by county worker unions, the county executive and county council can decide not to approve full funding for the pacts and freeze wages or authorize smaller increases.