Budget shortfall to force layoffs in Baltimore Co. Hayden is unsure of just how many could lose jobs

December 22, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Baltimore County government is virtually certain for the first time, to lay off employees, Executive Roger B. Hayden said yesterday.

"There will be people cuts. I don't see any way to reduce programs and services without reducing the size of the work force. Most likely is a layoff. It's like Ivory soap," Mr. Hayden said, referring to that product's advertised purity of 99.44 percent.

But his announcement of the number of workers who will lose their jobs -- and when the layoffs will take effect -- won't come for at least a month, Mr. Hayden said in an interview about the county's $31.7 million revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year. He said he has not decided yet how many workers will lose their jobs or from what departments the layoffs would come.

The executive has said repeatedly over the last two years that layoffs were the one thing he hoped to avoid despite the numerous rounds of state budget cuts.

Several County Council members, along with labor leaders, expressed surprise when told of the news, since Mr. Hayden had not told them that layoffs were definite.

"I can't intelligently comment until I hear something more," said Councilman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, D-3rd, leaving last night's council meeting.

Chairman William A. Howard IV, R-6th, said he "was hoping something creative could be found to avoid layoffs, and maybe something still can between now and January."

Kevin O'Connor, president of firefighters Local 1311, said, "It's disgraceful that we have to learn about it from the press." He said Mr. Hayden refused to share his internal agency audits with union leaders to see if suggestions for cuts other than layoffs could be achieved.

"It's unconscionable to again force employees to bear this burden," said L. Timothy Caslin, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4. "Our people are under enough stress without now having to worry about whether their jobs are safe."

Edward M. Pedrick Jr., president of the county chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said he "felt all along the decision would be layoffs." He said he believe furloughs were unlikely in the wake of an arbitration ruling reimbursing police for five furloughs days from last year. That decision is under appeal.

But Mr. Hayden said his comments shouldn't surprise anyone: "I don't see that this is different than what we've said all along, that nothing is off the table and layoffs would be the result of program review."

The executive, who earlier had refused to specify any particular budget cuts, said he "can't cut costs and not impact people," noting that most of the budget goes for salaries.

Earlier in the day, before acknowledging the necessity of layoffs, Mr. Hayden said he wanted to coordinate this year's short-term budget cuts with a plan to reduce the size of county government in the next two years.

"This is not just a fiscal 1993 solution," he said. "This should carry us years into the future."

Because the county will need more police, firefighters and teachers in the future, a hiring freeze or early retirements in those areas can't work in the long run, Mr. Hayden said.

Though crime in the county is rising, for example, the police department has 163 fewer officers than last year. Another dozen officers are due to retire this year.

Mr. Hayden already has told the council that the county can't afford to repeat last year's early retirement plan, which saw more than 400 experienced workers leave.

Another such "brain drain" would seriously cripple the work force, said Merreen E. Kelly, county administrative officer.

Though he has a fairly good idea of some cuts he intends to make, Mr. Hayden said he won't discuss them until he is absolutely certain and knows the effect the cuts will have.

County Budget Director Fred Homan said dealing with thiyear's cuts is much different from deciding on the worker furloughs, early retirement incentives and job freezes imposed last year.

The time for broad-brush, across-the-board budget cuts are over, he said.

This year's budget-cutting measures will be more specific, with Mr. Hayden eliminating "good and useful" programs the county can no longer afford.

"Whatever moves he makes, this year will presage permanent changes in next year's budget," Mr. Homan said.

The county's dilemma stems from the $27.4 million in state aid cut by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the General Assembly.

Nearly $21 million will be cut permanently because the state no longer will pay Social Security taxes on the salaries of county teachers, librarians and community college employees.

In addition to the state cut, the county is expecting a $4.3 million shortfall in its own revenues.

The county has a $5 million surplus and could save about $3.5 million by not filling vacant jobs.

Some of the cuts can be passed on to community colleges and schools to absorb within their own budgets.

Even with these measures, "it leaves a gap," Mr. Homan said.

But the county's $9 million "rainy day fund" can't be spent because that would threaten the county's high bond rating, Mr. Homan said. A lower bond rating would cost more than $9 million in interest on future bond sales, he said.

Yesterday, Mr. Hayden again refused to debunk rumors or to say if he might favor another increase in the county's piggyback income tax, which last year increased from 50 percent to 55 percent of the state's share.

The piggyback tax is a local income tax added onto the state income tax.

The county can increase the piggyback income tax to a maximum of 60 percent of what the state takes, starting July 1. That would raise up to $24 million.

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