Agencies run short of funds

March 31, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

When he took office three years ago, County Executive Charles I. Ecker hadn't figured on employees clinging to their jobs so tightly.

As a result, he has had to ask the County Council to transfer $107,000 from contingency reserves to the Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits to pay salaries through June 30 -- the end of the fiscal year.

"I put in too much turnover in the budget," Mr. Ecker said, "but not one person has left [the department] in two years."

Faced with an economic recession when he took office, Mr. Ecker sought to deal with shortfalls and deficits with layoffs, early retirements, furloughs and attrition.

His policy on attrition was to leave most jobs vacant when people left them. It worked -- at least initially. But in the past two years, employees have been hanging on to their jobs tenaciously.

"There has not been much turnover since I came into office," Mr. Ecker said. "The turnover is not as great as a few years ago."

Although the Department of Licenses, Inspections and Permits is the only one so far to ask for money to pay existing salaries, other departments -- especially those connected with the courts -- also say they need help from the contingency reserves to cover other expenses.

Sheriff Michael A. Chiuchiolo, for example, wants $6,000 to cover unexpected costs of extraditing suspects to the county for trial, and the Circuit Court wants $14,000 to hire a temporary court reporter.

Earlier this month, State's Attorney William R. Hymes told the council that he needs $50,500 to cover unanticipated costs arising from the prosecution of the killers of Pam Basu. Dr. Basu was killed Sept. 8, 1992 as she was dragged two miles by hijackers who stole her car with her 22-month-old daughter inside.

"The cases we're trying involve much more violence than the past 15 to 17 years," Mr. Hymes told the council at its March 21 public hearing.

Crime fighting techniques have become more sophisticated, he said, and now routinely include tests for things such as deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA -- the chromosomal equivalent of fingerprints.

"It is not the tests that are expensive, but the experts" called as witnesses to interpret the tests, Mr. Hymes told the council. The use of expert witnesses routinely costs the county from $6,000 to $8,000 per expert, Mr. Hymes told the council.

Part of the expense in the Basu case, Mr. Hymes said, was the fact that one of the trials was held outside the county.

"We didn't run out of money till the end of February," Mr. Hymes said. "We're trying to be very frugal, but we don't have many choices."

The council will vote on Mr. Hymes' request April 4. The requests by the sheriff, the Circuit Court and the Inspections, Licenses and Permits petition, have been put on the council's April agenda. The council will hold a public hearing on those requests April 18 and is scheduled to vote on them May 2.

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