About 150 Anne Arundel County employees met with their boss yesterday to hear a pep talk and some assurance their jobs were safe -- at least until June 30.
County Executive Robert R. Neall told employeesthat Gov. William Donald Schaefer's latest round of budget cuts may cost Anne Arundel $15 million in state aid, but that can be made up without furloughs, layoffs or additional wage concessions.
"I don't expect any (layoffs) between now and June 30, unless theworld comes to an end," said Neall.
That relieved William Buchanan, 27, a maintenance worker in the Department of Public Works roads division based in Crownsville.
Buchanan, a three-year employee, said rumors were circulating in the Crownsville garage yesterday that Neall had scheduled the meeting to announce either furloughs or layoffs.
"I wanted to get a job with the county for a long time, and now I just want to keep it," said Buchanan, of Pasadena.
Neall last met with county employees in October, when he sought wage concessions to help cover a $20.8 million deficit.
"Three months ago, I was in fear for my job," said Buchanan, who lost about $13 a week in the concessions. "Now I'm relieved."
He said he would have liked to hear assurances that his job was secure beyond June 30 -- the end of the fiscal year -- but understood by the end of the session that there aretoo many variables involved.
Yesterday's forum at the Heritage Center on Riva Road near Annapolis was the first of six information sessions slated for this week for Neall to answer questions in the face of a budget crisis that prompted him to trim $18 million from the county budget last fall with a series of cost-cutting measures that included wage concessions from the county's 11,000 employees.
Neall told workers the county's economic picture still hinges on such factorsas the state of the economy and the amount of aid to the county included in the state budget enacted by the General Assembly.
"They'reall good questions, but at this point, there aren't any answers to these questions," he said after the hour-long session.
Neall used the session to attempt to boost morale, at one point telling workers he was proud of them.
"I want you all to hang in there. The economyis going to come back. I don't think it's going to be like it was inthe 1980s, but I think it's going to stabilize," he said.
He alsopledged to set aside 90 minutes each week for open-door sessions so workers can come in and talk one-on-one. He managed to get a laugh when he described what he would do with the time if no one showed up.
"For an hour and a half every week, that time belongs to you. If you don't use it, I'll use it to answer some of my hate mail," he said.
Neall also told county workers yesterday:
* Chances for any cost-of-living increase for next year are slim. "I wouldn't bet the farm on it," he said.
* Blue Cross and Blue Shield representatives have indicated that health-care costs could rise by as much as 30 percent, and he plans to discuss "alternatives" with the county's labor unions. He would not elaborate, saying that will be part of the contract talks that are only beginning.
* He hopes to offer employees some type of early retirement package by next summer that will provide an incentive for longtime workers to retire.
Similar sessions are planned for today at 8:30 a.m. at the Heritage Center on Riva Road, 11a.m. at the County Council chambers and 2 p.m. at the Glen Burnie Improvement Association building. Sessions also will be held Wednesday at 9 a.m. at the council chambers and at 2 p.m. at the Glen Burnie facility.