Vacant jobs might go

Cutting 100 positions, using rainy day fund aims to ease county budget

March 29, 2009|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

The county is set to eliminate more than 100 vacant jobs in the next budget proposal, as well as dip into its $46 million rainy day fund for the first time - additional steps County Executive John R. Leopold said he's taking to battle next year's budgetary woes.

"We're not operating in a vacuum," Leopold said. "We're all part of the same economic downturn, and we've seen where corporate entities have been compelled to order what they call 'right sizing,' or layoffs. ... The public sector is not immune from the same budgetary winds that have been blowing for some time."

The county executive implemented one of three hiring freezes in October, leaving vacancies open for more than 100 positions. Cutting those jobs should save $5,667,475 each year, according to the county.

Though Leopold has previously considered using the rainy day fund, he said Thursday that unless something drastic happens to turn around the economy, it will be "required" for next fiscal year.

Anne Arundel is facing a $144 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2010, Leopold said, a number that has continued to rise in recent months. That includes a $15 million state cut in revenue.

There was a $43.2 million revenue shortfall this year, county Budget Officer John Hammond said this month. Recordation and collection taxes are down $28 million from an $83 million projection, Leopold has said.

The county executive said he still wants to avoid layoffs and has taken other measures to cut back county spending, including renegotiating county employees' health care contracts and cutting the use of take-home cars.

"I can see that fiscal 2011 presents an even more sobering situation for the county because we're going to tap into the rainy day fund for the first time in chartered government, so we're running out of options," Leopold said.

"The goal is not to have furloughs or layoffs."

Leopold said he has also asked the budget officer to meet with members of the County Council and county delegation of the General Assembly to discuss why it would be "imprudent to take any action that will further exacerbate our budget deficit situation."

Councilman Ron Dillon Jr. of Pasadena called the moves "positive."

"I welcome it, and obviously I'm very supportive of taking these provisions," Dillon said. "I feel like we haven't been pro-active enough in terms of cutting costs."

Dillon added that the county has $400 million in expenses and a nearly $150 million shortfall.

"Obviously working those numbers out, it's not a real pretty picture," he said. "I think dipping into the rainy day fund is absolutely necessary at this point."

Continuing to provide county services with less is a consideration Leopold must also battle, another councilman said.

"[Leopold] continues his very conservative attitude about staffing, but he's still going to be held responsible for the day-to-day operations of the county, and that's where the difficulty comes," said Council Chairman Edward R. Reilly, who represents District 7.

Leopold is to present the budget to the County Council on May 1.

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