BEL AIR -- Harford County employees have fallen victim to the tough economic times facing government leaders statewide, as County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said yesterday that no pay raises will be coming in the next budget year.
Citing declining revenues and a depleted budget surplus, Mrs. Rehrmann said she was freezing the salaries of more than 1,000 county workers to avoid laying off people to meet the county's budget needs, though she did not guarantee no layoffs would be forthcoming.
"There are no absolutes, but we believe that this action we have taken will avoid layoffs," she said. "We'll have a very lean budget. I believe we will be able to preserve every job. That was the No. 1 priority I had."
The freeze for the next budget year, which starts July 1, includes merit awards and cost-of-living raises, but does not affect fringe benefits, Mrs. Rehrmann said. She also asked that similar steps be taken for other agencies that receive county money but are not under her administration, such as the Board of Education, Harford Community College and the county library system.
Representatives from three unions -- the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Maryland Classified Employees Association and the Harford County Deputy Sheriff's Union -- met with Mrs. Rehrmann yesterday morning to go over the county's financial problems.
Thomas B. Kelleher, senior council representative of AFSCME Council 67, which represents about 180 county workers, said they planned to work with the county executive on ways to cut spending.
He said his union asked for more budget information and they are meeting with union leaders "to try to find ways of obtaining additional funding for all workers. We are trying to find any areas that could be changed" to save money, he said.
Overall, Mr. Kelleher said his union was "very pleased that there will be no layoffs projected for next year and no rollback of benefits."
Joseph H. Cook, director of field services for MCEA, which represents more than 100 county workers, said the union planned to go over county budget figures to see if step increases for workers could still be granted.
"We believe those pay increments should be treated differently," he said. "If there was any positive part of our meeting, it was that she did say if there was any way to fund them, she would."
Mrs. Rehrmann said in additionto the salary freeze, county officials were taking several steps to make sure the government remained fiscally sound. She said several capital improvement projects, including $500,000 for an animal control building, would be delayed.