Pay raise prospects for about 5,200 Howard County government and public school employees are hanging in the gap between the state House of Delegates and the Senate over a 1992-1993 budget.
Negotiators for the county government and Board of Education have not mentioned dollar amounts for raises in talks with employee unions. They have also postponed some scheduled negotiating sessions because of the budget uncertainty.
The county and school system have about 4,100 unionized employees, but non-union employees usually receive parallel raises.
"We're all sitting around holding our breath waiting to hear what happens inthe last days of the legislature," said George F. Gisin, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees staff representative for school custodians and maintenance workers, county corrections and blue-collar workers.
The major worry of Howard officials is state aid to counties. Another concern is a proposal that would have penalized counties and school systems that give employees raises in 1992-1993 with a dollar-for-dollar loss in state aid. That proposal was killed in both houses, but some fear it could be resurrected by the conference committee that is trying to agree on a budget.
County Budget Administrator Raymond S. Wacks anticipates the loss of all state-shared taxes, state property tax grants to counties, the corporate income tax grant for transportation, revenue sharing and smaller miscellaneous state grants. Another $1.5 million to $2 million in police aid is still up in the air. The total loss could be between $7 and $9 million to the county, he said.
The delay worries Wacks because of the April 20 deadline for County Executive Charles I. Ecker's submission of his budget to the County Council. "We should be making final decisions now, and we're not doing it. That's the scary part," he said.
Ecker and Superintendent Michael E. Hickey have pledged to try to give employees salary increases in the fiscal year that begins July1. This year, neither school nor county government workers received raises, and most government employees took pay losses because of fivefurlough days.
Hickey said he thinks a salary agreement with school employee unions can be reached quickly after the budget and tax issues are settled in Annapolis.
"If it ends up the so-called 'doomsday budget,' there's not going to be anything to negotiate about," Hickey said.
The "doomsday budget" -- no additional revenue -- wouldmean drastic cuts in state and county services and would scuttle raises.
The superintendent said he believes the school board could send Ecker a supplemental budget request for raises one week after the state budget is set.
Teachers and county firefighters will be covered on non-salary issues in 1992-1993 by existing contracts and are negotiating only on raises. County police, blue-collar and correctionsworkers, school secretaries, instructional assistants, custodians and maintenance workers are negotiating new contracts.
The police and county government still have unresolved issues on table, but policeunion President Dale L. Hill said he could not comment on them.
Numerous issues remain unresolved between the board and school secretaries and instructional assistants. Negotiators for school custodians and maintenance workers have reached tentative agreement with the school board on all issues except salaries, Gisin reported.
He said other issues remain unresolved in contract talks for the county blue-collar and corrections employees, but the agreement between the countyand AFSCME to maintain confidentiality in negotiations bars him fromidentifying the issues.
Albert K. White, head of the union that represents 300 county parks, utilities, wastewater treatment, buildings and grounds and general services employees, said he thinks the members understand the financial situation but would be hard pressed to face another year without a salary increase.
"Public employees are just like anyone else," White said. "They have to live, they have to eat, they have children in school. They're trying to put children through college, and college costs keep going up."