County Executive John G. Gary, who said last week he will not raise teacher salaries this year, has extended that policy to all of the county's 3,500 employees.
The tough fiscal tack has forced a showdown between Mr. Gary's administration and Anne Arundel's largest police union. Just days away from impasse, the two parties have locked horns over pay and pension benefits amid tight financial times.
The county's chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents 700 active and retired patrol officers, is planning a march on the Arundel Center Monday evening to present its case to the County Council.
On Friday, the failing talks will officially reach impasse and be placed in the hands of a federal mediator.
The council may eventually be forced to serve as arbiter between the year-old Republican administration, which has made fiscal restraint its hallmark, and union leaders if mediation doesn't forge a contract. Labor officials say Mr. Gary's slim-spending policy has come almost entirely at their expense.
"The government expands its programs and services at the cost of employees," said Dennis P. Howell, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 70. "We hope that the County Council will see that we've gone without for too long."
Mr. Gary's administration, represented by an outside labor negotiator, is talking now with the county's six public-employee unions.
Most of the discussions are still preliminary, and talks with the Fraternal Order of Police are the first to have broken down.
Specifically, Mr. Howell said negotiations were thwarted by the pay issue and an administration proposal to extend the time it takes an officer to reach the top of the salary scale. The union has not received a raise since 1994, when members received a 6 percent increase.
Mr. Howell acknowledged that Anne Arundel County Police officers earn roughly the same as their counterparts in Baltimore County and city. But he said they make roughly $12,000 a year less than patrol officers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
"If the county goes through with this you are going to see a lot of police officers leave," Mr. Howell said. "We've given and given. We can't step back anymore."
On Friday, County Attorney Phillip F. Scheibe is scheduled to give a public briefing on the negotiations, which for the first time are not subject to a media blackout.
Mr. Scheibe said the police union set an "inflammatory" tone for negotiations by sending members a letter Feb. 19 calling for the march.
"The realities are that we don't have any money," Mr. Scheibe said yesterday. "You can't get blood out of a turnip. This applies to all bargaining units we are dealing with right now. There is no money on the table."
Employee salary and benefits account for almost 75 percent of Anne Arundel's $733 million operating budget.
In recent years, the county's capital budget for new projects has increased, largely as a result of the $62 million county courthouse construction. Anne Arundel also will pay for half of a $27 million jail in Glen Burnie to relieve overcrowding at the Jennifer Road facility.
John R. Hammond, the county budget director, said the capital budget jumps and dips with each year, while operation costs climb steadily.
"We're a people organization," Mr. Hammond said. "Let's put it this way. If we didn't build the detention center, we wouldn't have any place to put all these people the police are dealing with."