Layoffs, Furloughs In The Works

Preliminary Plan Shows Dixon Also Tapping Into Surplus Funds As Way To Close Budget Gap

August 29, 2009|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,annie.linskey@baltsun.com

Mayor Sheila Dixon plans to dip into the city's $13.5 million "undesignated surplus" funds, lay off about 100 city workers and implement across-the-board furloughs to close a $60.2 million budget shortfall caused by state cuts and declining city revenue estimates, according to union leaders who met with city officials this week and a budget document obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

The plan also includes using $11 million to $12 million of excess funds from last year, continuing a budget freeze already in place and deferring some unspecified capital projects. The briefing did not touch on expected reductions to city services; one City Hall official said Dixon may ax the city's bulk trash pickup to save $1 million.

Scott Peterson, a City Hall spokesman, declined to comment on the plan. It is preliminary and depends on willingness from the city's unions to accept furloughs in order to forestall deeper layoffs. If union and nonunion employees are furloughed, the city would save $13.5 million and layoffs could be limited to fewer than 100.

Employees who are not represented by unions would save the city $3.8 million by taking furloughs. Union furloughs save the city $9.7 million.

If unions don't accept furloughs, city officials laid out an option where they would save the $9.7 million by laying off an additional 222 to 286 employees, according to the briefing. Baltimore employs about 15,000 workers.

"We understand the predicament that the mayor is in," said Robert F. Cherry, the head of the city's police union, who said he needs to talk with top police and administration officials before he knows whether the members will take furloughs.

Their contract with the city includes a "no furlough" clause, he said. "What do furloughs mean for the rank-and-file and morale and fighting crime?" he asked. "We want the officers to know that the work they did over the last year is appreciated."

Bob Sledgeski, the head of the firefighters' union, bristled at the idea of furloughs and lashed out at the city's finance director, Edward J. Gallagher, who he said has patched the city's $2.3 billion budget together with "baling wire and bubble gum."

Sledgeski said his 1,400 members already receive lower salaries than nearby jurisdictions. "I hope that he [Gallagher] is not going to make that lower," Sledgeski said.

Capt. Stephan Fugate, the head of the fire officers union, described either scenario - furloughs or layoffs - as "ugly." He said he worries that any reduction in the fire force will mean more closures of fire companies, which he believes would endanger neighborhoods and firefighters.

Glenard S. Middleton Sr., a statewide leader in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees - a union that represents many city workers - said that he was pleased Dixon is considering furloughs on a sliding scale in which those who make more money would have to take more days off.

While a furlough plan has not been completed, those familiar with the current thinking say it could require workers who make less than $50,000 to take five days off without pay, those who make between $50,000 and $100,000 to take eight days, and those who make more than $100,000 to take 10 days off.

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