County may curb contract benefits

December 11, 1992|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County officials will not offer fringe benefits t future employees hired on a contractual basis and are evaluating whether to rescind such benefits to current contractual employees next year.

The benefits include health insurance, paid vacation, sick days, holidays and disability leave. The action, which was announced to department heads at a meeting Monday and is effective immediately, was labeled a cost-cutting move and an attempt to revamp a system that officials said has allowed contractual hiring get out of hand.

The county employs 334 people -- out of a total work force of about 4,000 -- on contracts that range from one month to one year. County officials have not decided whether to terminate the benefits when most contracts expire June 30, but "that's the current thinking," said county budget officer Steven E. Welkos.

Ending those benefits would save the county $700,000 a year, he said. The contractual employees cost the county $7.2 million each year in salaries and paid leave.

"In effect, we're giving them a six-month notice," county Personnel Director Donald Tynes Sr. said.

If benefits are rescinded, contract employees still will be able to buy health insurance through the county, but will have to pay the full price, instead of the 10 percent they now pay.

Not surprisingly, contract employees are unhappy about losing benefits they have come to count on, in what amounts to a cut in salary.

"It's probably going to be a good $200 out of my pocket for health insurance, so sure, it's going to be difficult," said Edie Roscher, coordinator of the Lula Scott senior center in Shady Side. She said she would not be hurt as badly as people who have families to support.

County officials say there are too many contractual positions, and that many have been maintained for too long. Some of the contract positions have been renewed year after year to the point where several people have been employed by the county under contract for more than a decade.

"I know, just looking through our records, we've had some contractuals that have been with the county 10, 12, 15 years," Mr. Tynes said. "But that would be the exception. Normally, contractual employees would be here for two or three years."

Officials said the county has been generous in offering benefits to its contract employees, but can no longer afford to do so.

"We have treated our contractual employees the same as if they were merit employees," Mr. Tynes said. "I think it was something that, when times were good, was put into effect and it didn't cause any fiscal concern at that point. In terms of where we are today, this is something that we're going to have to discontinue."

Mr. Tynes said Anne Arundel County was pretty much alone in its generosity to contract employees. "We found that in a number of neighboring jurisdictions, contractual employees are not given benefits and they are just compensated on an hourly basis," he said.

Officials in Baltimore and Howard counties confirmed that people who work for them under contract do not receive any benefits. In Howard County, anyone hired by contract is not even considered an employee, said assistant personnel director William Herndon. Benefits are offered on a prorated basis to some nonmerit employees who work less than full time but more than half time, he added.

By next year, Mr. Tynes said, county officials would like to see the ranks of contractual employees trimmed by 200 people. The reductions will come through attrition -- by converting some contract employees to merit positions or by some contracts not being renewed.

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