Ecker wants deficit resolved soon He agrees to work with Gov. Schaefer

September 28, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

County Executive Charles I. Ecker hopes Gov. William Donald Schaefer is still listening to him.

"We did not agree to fight the governor" over his proposal to slash $150 million in state aid to counties, Mr. Ecker said. "We agreed to work with the governor in making the budget cuts. Hopefully, we'll be able to meet with him again this week."

Mr. Ecker took issue with Prince George's County Executive Paris N. Glendening, though he didn't mention him by name.

"We are not acquiescing to the $150 million cut at all," Mr. Glendening said after a meeting the governor had last week with county executives and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to discuss proposed cuts. "To do so would open us to major cuts in the future."

Regardless of who said what to whom, Mr. Ecker would like to move swiftly to resolve the issue with the governor, because the current fiscal year is already 3 months old. The later it gets, the less flexibility the county will have cutting its budget, he said.

Based on last year's experience, Howard County's share of the statewide cuts should amount to about $7 million or $8 million, Mr. Ecker said.

"We're hopeful that we will be able to avoid furloughs and layoffs, but it depends on the size of the cut," Mr. Ecker said.

Last year, Mr. Ecker furloughed the county's 1,600 non-school system employees five days without pay to shave $1 million from the county budget. The furloughs came as a result of cuts in state aid similar to those proposed this year.

Baltimore City also used furloughs to cope with state cuts to its budget, but teachers and police officers sued, saying it was a violation of their contracts.

A federal judge agreed, saying the city has a contractual obligation to pay police and teachers their negotiated salaries. He ordered the city to reimburse teachers and police $3.3 million within 30 days.

"I don't anticipate any problem" arising from the Baltimore suit, Mr. Ecker said. "Employees were not happy about the furloughs, but they acquiesced for the good of the county."

Al White, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local, said he was asking the union attorney to look at the Baltimore suit to determine if it has implications for Howard County. The local represents 300 blue-collar workers in the Public Works and Recreation and Parks departments.

"I'm not sure what the specifics are," Mr. White said. "I think they have a 'no layoff' clause, which we don't."

Mr. White said he and other local government union leaders agreed to the furloughs last winter to avoid layoffs.

"Saving jobs, that was the main thing," he said. "We accepted furloughs to keep people from being laid off."

Because of a $1 million cut in state aid earlier this year, the

county has virtually nothing left in state aid

that is unrestricted, Mr. Ecker said. The only departments still receiving aid are the Board of Education, the health department, the Police Department, the library and the community college, he said. The county is also receiving some state highway money.

Altogether, the unrestricted aid amounts to about $82 million -- $45 million for the Board of Education, $25 million for Board of Education pension and social security payments, $6 million for roads, $400,000 for the Board of Health and $500,000, for the public library.

Mr. Ecker said he hopes to hear from the governor by Oct. 1 about the amount of aid that will be cut from each county. He said he plans to determine local cuts in two weeks regardless.

Long term, Mr. Ecker said he doesn't think the economy is going to turn around soon "regardless of who wins the presidency. We have to look at services -- what we're going to pay for and what we're not going to pay for. A lot of people think we can afford to do anything."

Mr. Ecker said he expects state money cut from the county budget this year to disappear forever. The end result is that the county will have to charge for some services previously covered by the property tax, he said.

"We have to change and that's very difficult to do," he said.

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