Their sense of security shattered by past layoffs and current budget woes, Baltimore County employees have rushed to take an early retirement offer.
The Ruppersberger administration set a goal of 150 workers, but by yesterday's deadline, 235 had signed up for the program, designed to save the county millions of dollars.
That's a relief for county officials, who learned this week that their share of fourth-quarter state income tax revenue was down 4.4 percent from last year -- a $2 million loss.
Even if some of the retiring employees have to be replaced, the exodus will help prevent layoffs if revenue continues to decline, county officials say.
The $2 million loss can be absorbed, County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III said.
"We've been spending less money [than budgeted]. I'm happy a lot of people are going to take advantage of the humane way" to trim the budget, he said.
The goal of 150 early retirements, set in December, would have saved about $5 million annually. It's too early to tell how much money the county will save from the 235 retirements, because officials don't know how many workers will have to be replaced.
Those leaving are fairly evenly distributed within the county's 7,000-person work force, said personnel director Anthony J. Sharbaugh. That means the county won't lose entire offices or bureaus, he said.
The large response is no mystery to county employee union leaders.
"Anybody who's got the time in wants to get out. There's no security anymore," said Edward M. Pedrick Jr., president of Local 921 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
James. L. "Jim" Clark, president of the white-collar Federation of Public Employees, said the layoffs of more than 300 county workers in 1993, the lack of recent pay raises and constant rumors about layoffs have had an effect.
"The events of two years ago scared a lot of people. It's fresh in their minds," he said.