Workers to get raise of 2%

Robey says pay is the other half of 4% announced last year

Covers only May and June

Police union complains about retroactive limit

April 18, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

As he prepares to reveal his next budget tomorrow, Howard County Executive James N. Robey finished one bit of business left from last year - a delayed 2 percent pay raise for 2,000 county workers.

Robey announced Friday that he will give county employees the other half of the 4 percent pay raise he announced last April - but only for May and June of this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

"You will see this increase as a retroactive lump sum in your check later this summer," Robey said in a letter e-mailed to the employees Friday.

"While I had hoped to make this announcement earlier in the year, continuing uncertainty regarding revenues prevented me from doing so."

James F. Fitzgerald, the police union president, complained that Robey told his leadership last year "that if [Gov. Robert L.]Ehrlich [Jr.] didn't cut any more money from the budget, then we'd get our 2 percent. We're waiting for our 2 percent - retroactive [to July 1, 2003]."

Fitzgerald said his members will gather at the George Howard Building tomorrow evening to show unity before Robey's budget speech to the County Council.

But Robey said he had never promised that.

"I sat them down and made that very clear to them," he said. The raise he announced is "all I can do."

Debra Thrower, president of the union that represents the county's 911 operators, seemed accepting of Robey's action, if resigned to not getting the entire 4 percent.

"At this point, most of my people are satisfied that they're at least getting the other 2 percent," she said.

"My personal feeling is that, yeah, we do deserve more money, but we understand the budget crisis in the whole state."

Dale Chase, president of the blue-collar American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3085, said Robey did exactly what he had promised in the union's contract.

"Naturally, we would have liked to have seen more, but we understand the fiscal position of the county," he said. Employees are "grateful," he said, that the raise will boost the foundation for any raise in next year's budget.

Robey provided no details about his new budget proposal, except to promise that he would provide "additional employee cost-of-living adjustments as well as steps and monetary performance awards" for fiscal 2005.

He is expected to announce a no-frills spending plan that contains enough to pay Howard County teachers the 6 percent raise they negotiated with the school board in 2002, but little else.

Local taxes aren't expected to rise, except for water and sewer rates for the Baltimore-owned, self-supporting utility system.

The teachers got a full 4 percent pay raise this year, but Robey held back $9.5 million instead of giving the same raise to general county workers because he feared state budget cuts and more recession-driven revenue problems.

Despite a large increase in the local share of state income taxes that took effect in January, revenue projections slid $22 million lower than forecast a year ago, and the state did cut highway maintenance funding.

Raymond S. Wacks, the county budget director, said the $9.5 million was whittled down over the year by a combination of the revenue shortfalls, $3.3 million used to help correct a budget error in paying for the county's bus system and money needed for clearing snow.

"We still have a revenue shortfall" that has required internal cuts through the year, he said.

Paying two months of the extra increase will cost the county $511,000, Wacks said.

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