Balto. Co. layoffs criticized Union study claims cost-cutting options were ignored

February 19, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

A union battling to represent Baltimore County workers claims the county could have saved millions of dollars without resorting to layoffs.

That assertion is part of a study by F. Howard Nelson, a budget expert for the American Federation of Teachers, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO. The study concludes that instead of cutting 566 jobs and 392 workers to save $15.3 million, the county could have used attrition and other temporary measures.

Mr. Nelson and Mel Driban, the union's local organizer, also say the real villains in county budget woes are the high interest payments on the county's debt.

County Budget Director Fred Homan rejects the argument that temporary measures, such as furloughs, were a feasible option.

First, he said, layoffs will save at least $18 million through next year, including fringe benefits.

Also, the county's experience with temporary savings over the past two years shows "government is too big for its revenue base."

In the past two years, the county lost $80 million in state aid, and there is no political will to raise income or property taxes again this spring, one year before an election year.

Mr. Homan also said attrition in "nonessential" jobs is very slow now.

"What galls me is that they think we weren't looking to do [temporary savings], that this [layoffs] was fun!" he said.

With federal cuts in defense spending looming and property tax assessments flat, Mr. Homan said prospects aren't bright for a resurgent local economy.

However, he agreed with Mr. Nelson and Mr. Driban that interest payments on loans taken out for capital spending are draining away valuable operating cash.

The union study said debt service payments rose from $23.million in 1983 to $66.2 million in fiscal 1992. These larger payments were fueled by public demands for roads, schools and other public facilities.

For months, Mr. Driban has been trying to win the right for his union, called the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees, to represent 1,698 remaining white-collar county workers. Those workers are now represented by the county chapter of the Maryland Classified Employees Association. Morris W. Barrett 3rd, chapter president, said layoffs claimed 111 people in his unit.

Part of Mr. Driban's strategy has been to claim his union would have been more aggressive in opposing the layoffs.

He has pointed to the study as an indication of the kind of effort his union can produce.

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