Ecker outlines cuts for Howard Worker furloughs should prevent need for layoffs.


Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker today outlined $14.5 million in budget cuts, including a reduction of trash collection and five-day furloughs of employees, to head off a projected deficit.

No layoffs of county workers were included.

Today's cuts pared the county's fiscal 1992 operating budget by 4.1 percent, from $270.3 million approved earlier this year to $258.6 million. Ecker said the cuts were needed to make up for a $3 million deficit from last year, $5.5 million in state cuts and $6 million in revenue shortfalls.

County officials say revenue projections have grown even worse than the bleak picture last month. The deficit was projected at $9.5 million in October and has risen by $5 million in the past month.

Ecker said property tax revenues are lagging behind projections because of declining assessments during a stagnant economy. He said the county also is collecting less than it expected to receive in property taxes and other fees.

Current projections forecast another slight downturn in the economy, he said.

"I do not believe revenues will increase," Ecker said as dozens of county employees watched on television monitors outside the room in the government building where the executive held his second news conference this year to announce major reductions. "I think we're taking a realistic view in making these projections."

Most areas now have twice-a-week trash collection but that would be reduced to weekly collections combined with an emphasis on recycling. The furloughs will save $1 million and prevent layoffs, which Ecker earlier had said probably would be needed.

He said furlough days for all county employees except public safety workers would be Dec. 23, 24 and 25, and Jan. 1 and 15. Three of those days -- Christmas, New Year's Day and Martin Luther King's birthday -- normally are paid holidays, but employees would not be compensated for those days under the executive's furlough plan.

Ecker said he had wanted to avoid furloughs, but predicted that employees would be pleased that his plan does not include layoffs. He laid off 40 workers when he announced his fiscal 1992 budget.

"We did not want to lay off any employees . . . ," he said. "We scraped and pinched."

The county has saved $2.2 million by refinancing bonds at lower interest rates, and the school system has given back $3 million from its budget. Cuts in county government operations, excluding furloughs, totaled $4 million.

Ecker needs approval from the County Council to furlough employees. Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, and Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, both said they would support furloughs.

"I'm very supportive of the package generally, because I think he's done a commendable job of addressing the budget problem," Gray said.

Ecker said the county could save another $1.3 million by refinancing more bonds and $450,000 by using a contingency fund for fire services. He needs County Council approval for both measures, but Feaga said he would be reluctant to give the executive authority to use the fire fund.

Other cuts include freezing vacant positions, delaying purchases of new equipment, eliminating street sweeping, reducing two-thirds of the take-home cars for county employees, delaying the opening of county libraries by one hour, reducing the temperatures in county buildings and implementing parking fees at Centennial Park's south entrance.

Ecker said today's action combined "Band-aid" and long-term solutions to the budget problems.

Among the long-term solutions Ecker proposed are a rainy-day fund, the creation of surpluses, institution of quality management principles in all departments, an early retirement plan, the elimination of duplicate services, reduction of paperwork and more efficient use of equipment and volunteers.

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