Furlough scheme may cost county

April 01, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden hoped to save money by furloughing workers for five days. But the strategy may have backfired at the county Detention Center.

The center expects to rack up a $578,000 bill for overtime by the end of June, said James Dean, administrator of the facility -- $228,000 more than the county had budgeted. Part of that comes from paying guards overtime to cover posts when officers are on furlough.

Yesterday Mr. Dean and Sheriff Norman M. Pepersack Jr. asked council members to take $500,000 from the county's $11 million surplus and transfer it to the Detention Center. The money would cover an expected deficit at the jail caused by soaring costs for overtime and care for sick inmates.

Although the county is uncertain how much of the overtime costs are resulting directly from furloughs, Mr. Dean said that 30 officers are needed for the daytime shift at the center, on Kenilworth Drive in Towson. Twenty-five officers are required for the evening shift, and 18 must work the midnight shift.

Furlough days are figured into scheduling each month, Mr. Dean said. But about twice a week on average, an officer who is scheduled to work calls in sick or is unable to report for duty for other reasons -- which leaves a shift short-handed.

The prison population is also 20 percent higher than the county budgeted for, said Lee Ann Coburn, the center's business manager. The Detention Center is also typically flooded with more prisoners in the fall and spring.

Mr. Dean said that since he can't leave a post unstaffed in the overcrowded facility, other guards must be called in and paid overtime while their colleagues are home on furlough.

Budget Director Fred Homan said an overtime problem was anticipated by the Hayden administration when furloughs were announced.

Mr. Homan said his department is collecting data to try to determine how much of the overtime costs at the detention center are the result of furloughs and how much comes from the increase in the prisoner population and from guarding inmates when they go to a hospital or other places.

County Administrative Officer Merreen E. Kelly added that the county is planning to privatize inmates' medical care this summer. Many prisoners could then be diagnosed and treated at the Detention Center instead of at area hospitals, he said, which should cut costs.

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