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When the times are tough, things can get a little weird.

Consider: Some County Council members have been publicly griping that the county executive should restore $500,000 allocated by her predecessor soa new animal shelter for homeless pets can be built. I call this project the "Dog and Cat Hotel."

But there's been no din rising from elected officials for action and an infusion of emergency county money since it was disclosed recently that the agency that provides food, shelter and other services to Harford's homeless people was about pluck out of money.

So, dogsand cats should reside in comfort and splendor but humans on the skids must make do for themselves.

There's one doozie of a message inthere for the thousand points of light the government is always calling to action.

And, there's a message here for the 1,500 county government employees who got the bad news this week from the county executive that they would have to forgo their 4 percent cost of living raises next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The trade-off, says Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, is this: no layoffs.

The average county worker makes a salary of $25,758, so county workers are giving up an average raise of $1,931.85.

I'd say $1,931.85 is a small price to pay to keep one's job and those of fellow workers.

The school board has been asked to freeze its employees' salaries to chip in withthe budget austerity measures Rehrmann has taken.

But their greedand priorities appear as warped as the council's when it comes to dog and cat hotels in lean times.

School employee union reps say a contract is a contract and they want their 8 percent raises. School administrators say the 8 percent raise promised to school employees andteachers means an average teacher, earning a salary of $36,072, is due to receive a $2,885.76 raise under the contract.

As you can see, while the average school employee makes considerably more than the

average county government worker, the union reps don't see the injustice in allowing school employees to get an average $2,885 raise while other county government workers suck it up come July.

(Keep inmind that when the new budget and salaries kick into effect, county government workers will be on the job. Teachers have the summer off. About 10 or 11 weeks of leisure to consider what, oh what, to do withthat 8 percent raise.)

At the very least the school employee unions could offer to give up the same percentage -- 4 percent -- that other Harford government workers will forgo.

And the council would do well to stifle their moaning about the need for a new dog and cat hotel at a time when homeless people are turned away at the inn and county government workers are asked to do without.

The Harford council may be green with new members. But, Lord, let's hope they aren't slow- minded to boot.

If the council votes March 19 to reapprove the $500 grand for the pet paradise hotel, but county building inspectors, truck drivers, secretaries and planners have to tighten their personal finances because of no raise, then I recommend this course of public dissent for county government employees:

Attend the council hearing March 19 en masse.

Bring the mangiest dog or cat you can find.

Tell the council members you won't be able to feed Fluffy andSparky due to the $$ you won't get in your paycheck next year.

And then wish Fluffy and Sparky a roarin' good time at the paradise hotel as you kiss 'em goodbye and set 'em loose in the council chamber.

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