The Layoff Ax Falls

January 18, 1993

In painfully slow motion, the layoff ax is falling on Baltimore County government workers.

First came County Executive Roger Hayden's pre-Christmas bombshell that county employees would be laid off, though he lacked details at the time. Then came Budget Director Fred Homan's announcement last week to county supervisors that several hundred workers could be let go this year. To learn the particulars -- who, how many, in which departments, when -- tune in sometime next month. That's when Mr. Hayden is expected to release his final decision on the cuts.

For the several thousand county employees who must sweat out the coming weeks, this is a lousy way to start the year. Yet the harsh reality is that layoffs were inevitable in a subdivision that has struggled the way Baltimore County has recently.

State funding reductions and shortfalls in county revenue have cost the subdivision a whopping $90 million over the past two years. Meanwhile, the population grows older and poorer as many young, middle-class families flee to neighboring jurisdictions. Add it all up and you have a county with fewer resources to serve a citizenry with growing needs. Something's gotta give. The Hayden administration says that means layoffs.

Since the first days of the recession, many county leaders -- Mr. Homan foremost among them -- have understood that government can no longer do everything for the public, from providing numerous services beyond the basics of public safety, education, health and infrastructure maintenance to offering lifetime jobs.

This philosophy also has its proponents in Howard and Anne Arundel counties. A just-announced government reorganization in Arundel, in fact, will cause more than 100 employees to lose their jobs.

In Baltimore County, the recession has yet to hit citizens very hard. It might now, as services on which people had depended begin to vanish or decline in quality. Then it will be interesting to see if the anti-tax, anti-government fervor of the past few years gives way to a clamor for the return of valued programs that have been diminished or slashed.

But it might be too late for that. Officials in Baltimore County and other jurisdictions would rather not deal with the current budgetary strife. However, since it's here, they view it as a prime opportunity to make government leaner. That way, the problems that necessitate such actions as layoffs might be avoided -- or at least handled more easily -- the next time they surface.

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