Ulman says 'minimal layoffs,' furloughs likely in Howard County

April 07, 2009|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,larry.carson@baltsun.com

Howard County will impose "minimal layoffs" and most likely furloughs on employees starting in July, County Executive Ken Ulman said Monday.

The layoffs would number "12 or fewer" in a work force of more than 2,000, Ulman said, though he did not say which departments would be affected. A decision on furloughs has not been made, the county executive said, but one will come within the next 10 days as the General Assembly works this week to complete the state's budget.

His comments came on a radio talk show and in an interview afterward.

Howard is grappling with drops in revenue from income tax and real estate sales, as well as investment losses. But Ulman said looming state cuts - $10 million to $15 million - have forced his hand. The county executive also noted that Howard's unemployment rate rose to 5.2 percent in February, according to state figures. That is below the state's 7.2 percent rate, but it is the highest county rate since the 1990 recession.

"Everything is on the table," Ulman said, speaking on Dan Rodricks' call-in radio show on WYRP. "You're going to see some reductions in services - parks not maintained, some reduction in library hours."

However, the county executive said tax increases "are not something we're giving serious thought to."

Ulman does not have the authority to furlough or lay off teachers, who are governed by the school board.

Howard has not requested a state waiver on school "maintenance of effort" spending as some jurisdictions have. That means the county must spend at least $2.7 million more for schools than last year.

Ulman said the county must find a way to get through the coming fiscal year with about $50 million less in operating revenue than this year. That represents a substantial drop in a county with an $850 million general fund budget, he said.

Though furloughs are not a certainty, one union official suggested asking for volunteers to spare workers in need.

Dale R. Chase, a senior electrician at the county's wastewater treatment plant who is president of Local 3085 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said he would volunteer to take unpaid leave to help other county workers. Chase's local represents utility, highway, and parks and recreation workers.Ulman is expected to reveal his fiscal 2010 budget proposal April 20. Last week he announced a $392 million capital budget, but he noted that funds for those construction projects are borrowed over a 20-year period and are not as tied to annual revenue used to pay expenses such as salaries.

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