Teachers charge county underestimated revenue

January 10, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

The Harford County executive has deliberately underestimated revenues to paint a bleak financial picture and avoid giving employees raises, a report commissioned by the county teachers union charges.

Jean R. Thomas, president of the Harford County Education Association, said the independent accountant's report proves the county has enough money to give raises and still maintain a healthy surplus.

"The county is in great financial shape. We are definitely due a raise now," said Mrs. Thomas, whose union represents some 1,500 of the county's 2,128 teachers.

Talks on the teachers' contract, which would take effect in September, could be completed this month.

Harford County could afford to give all of its 4,000 or so employees -- including teachers -- a 7 percent, across-the-board raise, according to the report.

The county ended the 1992 fiscal year on June 30 with a $13.7 million surplus. But County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said that amount won't be spent because about half must be left untouched to preserve the county's credit rating, and money will be needed to help absorb state budget cuts.

The 20-page report, prepared by the accounting firm R. J. Pellicoro Associates of Rockville, analyzes the county's financial health and concludes that Harford officials have been systematically underestimating revenues and exaggerating expenses. The Harford teachers union and the state teachers union, the Maryland State Teachers Association, paid an undisclosed amount for the report.

The county had underestimated revenue by an average of $6.7 million a year since 1985, said the report's author, accountant Robert J. Pellicoro.

"The recession has not hit Harford County as hard, partly because the county has done such a fantastic job of attracting industry," he said. "Harford could, without using all of its surplus or raising taxes, give its employees a raise."

Mrs. Thomas said she has sent a copy of the accountant's report to Ray R. Keech, the school superintendent. She is scheduled to meet with Mrs. Rehrmann tomorrow.

"We are not being unreasonable," Mrs. Thomas said. "Teachers know schools have many needs. It's the teachers who are using the old equipment and working in schools with leaking roofs."

Larry Klimovitz, the county director of administration, said Harford's conservative revenue estimates are "good management practice." He declined comment on the report, however, saying he had not seen it.

The county's teachers are still smarting from a wage freeze last year and the elimination of any across-the-board increase this year.

Mrs. Thomas said she would share the accountant's report with the three other unions representing nonteaching staff in schools and the unions representing other county workers.

Representatives of the unions began meeting in October, calling themselves the public employees advisory coalition in Harford, Mrs. Thomas said.

Edward L. Boyd, president of AFSCME local 1802, which represents 110 workers, said the group of unions has talked about bargaining together to strengthen its position.

"The county has been trying to keep money in the bank for hard times, which is commendable," Mr. Boyd said. "But they have not let people know that it is there. But now that we know the money is there, well, why didn't we get a raise?"

The county has about 1,100 nonschool employees. Employees have not received across-the-board raises for two fiscal years. About half of the employees qualified for step increases this fiscal year. No employees got step increases last fiscal year.

As part of a three-year contract, teachers received step and longevity raises in 1989 and 1990 as well as annual across-the-board raises of 7.6 percent and 7.8 percent. State budget cuts in 1991, however, cost teachers their 8 percent across-the-board raises as well as step and longevity increases.

Teachers, whose annual salaries average $35,642, got step increases and longevity increases this year. But Mrs. Thomas said most teachers received no more money.

They had worked too long -- more than 15 years -- to qualify for a step increase, yet not long enough to qualify for a longevity raise.

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