Unfilled jobs save Carroll $3.3 million


Carroll County government has saved $3.3 million over the past three years and reduced its work force by up to 7.4 percent a year without laying off any employees.

The commissioners achieved the savings by leaving up to 42 positions a year vacant and eliminating 12 positions, said Budget Director Steven D. Powell.

But some departments are feeling the pinch of being short-staffed.

During recent budget review meetings, supervisors have asked that seven existing positions be filled and 19 new ones added.

Among them:

* State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman has asked for five new positions: two new assistant state's attorneys, a child-abuse investigator, an investigator and a legal secretary.

"I make this request only because I have no choice," he said at a Feb. 11 budget meeting. He said he needs more employees to keep up with an increased caseload of child-abuse, drug and child-support cases.

* Sheriff John H. Brown asked for nine more deputies for the county detention center to help cut down on overtime and burnout of deputies.

* The Office of Economic Development, which has been without a director since August when James C. Threatte resigned, needs a secretary-receptionist, said Business Development Manager William E. Jenne, who is overseeing the office's daily work.

He told the commissioners that the office could get along without the secretary, but that it would run more efficiently with -- one.

* Citizen Services Director Jolene Sullivan asked for a part-time employee to oversee the county's efforts to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The commissioners are considering the requests. Toward the end of the approval process, the budget office will recommend to the commissioners whether the positions should be filled, Mr. Powell said.

The commissioners are scheduled to adopt a fiscal 1994 budget in late May. Before then, they must cut about $3.4 million in requests from county agencies to balance the operating budget.

County agencies have asked for $128,158,080, but revenues are projected to be only $124,779,695.

The county has been short on money since the recession hit. County employees have not received a raise in three years, Mr. dTC Powell said.

The last large budget cut came late last year, when the commissioners were forced to cut $5.2 million from the county's $119.3 million operating budget to help close a half-billion-dollar state deficit.

"Money, money, money. 1992 was the year of money, or rather the year of figuring out how to do with less money," Carroll Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said last month in his State of the County address.

"It made the job so hard," he said.

The commissioners have said that they want to avoid layoffs and tax increases.

To help ease the budget crunch, they permanently eliminated 12 county positions during the current fiscal year, Mr. Powell said. The positions were janitorial services inspector, surface water technician, auditor, naturalist, environmental review specialist, environmental education specialist, budget officer, sports complex manager, an administrative secretary, public transportation coordinator, a zoning inspector and landscape inspector.

Also this year, 23 other positions were not filled, Mr. Powell said.

The 35 empty positions this year meant a 6.4 percent reduction in the work force and a $1.1 million savings in salaries and fringe benefits, he said. The county work force after the cuts totals 509 people.

If the commissioners had decided to fill the 35 positions and increase property taxes to raise money to pay the salaries and benefits, the county tax rate of $2.35 per $100 of assessed value would have had to be raised 4.4 cents, Mr. Powell said.

Each penny on the tax rate grosses $260,000.

But Mr. Powell said the commissioners would have made other cuts before raising taxes.

In fiscal 1992, 42 positions were not filled, which meant a 7.4 percent reduction in the work force and a $1.4 million savings, Mr. Powell said. The total work force after the cuts was 525 people.

In fiscal 1991, 26 positions were not filled, which meant a 4.7 percent reduction in the work force and a savings of $842,400, he said. The total work force after the cuts was 525 people.

Carroll's "slow-hire" policy also has saved money that does not show up in these numbers, Mr. Powell said.

The county has deliberately slowed the hiring process during the past two years to save money. It now could take up to three months to fill a position, he said.

Also, since February 1990, the commissioners must give their approval before any position is filled, Mr. Powell said.

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