Howard seeks to cut merit pay, bonuses to minimize layoffs


The Howard County administrator told about 100 county employees at a hearing last night that the passage of bills that could eliminate merit pay and longevity bonuses for the next fiscal year and permit furloughing could reduce the number of layoffs by as many as 60 employees.

"The one major goal we have in mind is to utilize this legislation to reduce the number of layoffs that may be necessary," said Buddy Roogow, the county administrator. He noted that the suspension of merit pay and longevity bonuses, which under the legislation before the Howard County Council would only be in effect next fiscal year, would save the county $2 million. He said furloughing all 1,800 county employees for one day would save $200,000.

The council is to vote on the bills April 1.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker has said he plans to lay off as many as 200 employees, but he recently backed off on plans to cut 40 police officer positions.

The Republican executive already has said that even with layoffs, furloughs and eliminating merit pay and longevity bonuses, the county can still count on higher property taxes and reduced services because of a shortfall of tax revenues resulting from the recession. Although he did not attend last night's hearing at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City, Mr. Ecker came under fire from many of the 12 speakers.

One employee, who has opposed Mr. Ecker's proposals, said afterward that the turnout was comparatively light because "many of the employees are fed up and consider it a done deal."

Two council members, C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, and Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, expressed opposition to Mr. Ecker's layoff plans. "I support furloughs, which should be shared by everybody from the county executive on down," said Council Chairman Gray. Ms. Pendergrass said, "I don't care for laying people off."

Cecelia A. Fabula, of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 67, which represents the public works blue-collar employees and detention center officers, said Mr. Ecker was intent on reducing the size of county government and "doesn't give a damn who is hurt. . . . We think it is employee roulette. . . ." Richard Crawford, a housing inspector, said morale among county employees is terrible and recommended that the county government "cut back the big-dollar jobs" filled by executive appointees rather than furloughing and laying off county employees.

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