Budget bodes ill for Howard Co., agencies warn


Still smarting from a meeting yesterday with Howard County budget officials, who told him to come up with a plan for layoffs and furloughs in his office, State's Attorney William R. Hymes predicts the worst.

"It would not happen overnight, but within a certain number of months we would be letting some criminal defendants go free because we lacked the manpower to meet the 180-day, speedy-trial guidelines," the prosecutor said.

"There is a lot of bloodletting going on," added Mr. Hymes, who has 24 prosecutors on his 48-member staff. "We could lose 10 to 13 people, and I am convinced it will involve some prosecutors. This is absolutely unreal."

His sentiments were echoed throughout the government yesterday as officials worried about the impact of the county executive's plan to cut spending in all departments by about 16 percent. Nearly everyone expects layoffs, and most say services would suffer.

Jeffrey A. Bourne, director of parks and recreation, said that for the first time he proposes to charge adults $15 for each sports event they play on county fields, which could raise $65,000. Community groups also will be asked to help maintain some fields.

But even with those changes, Mr. Bourne said he expects to lose some of his staff and to delay implementing some new park projects.

Dr. Joyce Boyd, head of the Health Department, said cuts in her spending could mean longer waits for health care and fewer restaurant inspections.

"We would have to increase the waiting time at our health clinics and refer more patients to private physicians," she said. "We are already having trouble with restaurant inspections. We can't do two a year now."

Manus O'Donnell, who oversees human services programs, said cutting $460,000 from his $2.9 million budget likely will result in layoffs or furloughs.

"It is a painful process," he said. "The last thing we are trying to do is have an impact on the poor and elderly, who are most vulnerable."

Sheriff Michael Chiuchiolo said cuts in his staff could pose problems for the legal system.

"The worse-case scenario would mean that court papers would not be served in time for trials, which could knock the whole criminal justice system helter-skelter," he said.

Kenneth Watts, acting warden at the county jail in Jessup, said a 16 percent cut in his budget would "create a severe impact and certainly would have an effect on security, services and treatment.

"We definitely would be faced with layoffs, and it would have an impact on the security of the institution," he said.

Maj. James N. Robey, the acting police chief, sounded a more upbeat note about possible cuts. "It would not have an adverse impact on public safety," he said, adding that he can realign the staff "without affecting our patrol capability."

Major Robey said that between 20 and 40 civilian employees, police officers and command-level personnel could be laid off or furloughed.

David M. Hammerman, head of inspections, licenses and permits, also was confident of maintaining essential services. His worse-case scenario would involve laying off between four and six of his 68 employees; another option would be to furlough all employees one day a month.

"The furloughs or layoffs would have some impact, but essential services would continue, although there could be some delay in the issuance of permits and completing inspections," Mr. Hammerman said.

Library officials also were told yesterday that they should submit a revised budget showing a 16 percent cut, despite a previous indication that they would be exempted. Marvin Thomas, library service director, was unavailable for comment.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker said he remains "determined" to reduce county government spending from the current level of $113 million to $95 million.

"It is not something I enjoy doing, but I inherited a big deficit of nearly $20 million, and I am faced right off the bat with a $25 million shortfall next fiscal year because there is no carry-over surplus," Mr. Ecker said.

Mr. Ecker said he would try to balance the impact on the "health and safety of the community against the willingness of people to pay taxes. More people who talk to me say they do not want to raise taxes."

The property tax rate is $2.45 for each $100 of assessed value. Raymond S. Wacks, the budget officer, said that even with the cuts, a property tax increase is in the offing.

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