UPPER MARLBORO – With the county facing an increasing budget deficit, County Executive Rushern Baker III has suggested furloughing government employees, but some on the County Council would like see other strategies used to make up the difference. As a solution for the $47 million budget deficit the county faces, the county administration has proposed […]
UPPER MARLBORO – With the county facing an increasing budget deficit, County Executive Rushern Baker III has suggested furloughing government employees, but some on the County Council would like see other strategies used to make up the difference.
As a solution for the $47 million budget deficit the county faces, the county administration has proposed furloughing employees for 10 days throughout the next four months until the end of the fiscal year, according to Tom Himler, deputy chief administrator of budget for the county executive’s office.
Furloughing employees would save the county about $1.6 million per day, Himler said, and could potentially save the county a total of $16 million. Himler said the administration also proposes cutting overtime for public safety officials and government employees, which would save the county $5 million.
No one wants to see any furloughs or cuts for employees, Himler said, but there are very few options left at this point.
“We’re soon approaching the end of February, so we’ll have four months to fix this,” Himler said. “None of these are easy decisions and we realize that. And it’s not pleasant for the county executive to think about this either. But, sometimes, collectively, we have to make unpleasant decisions.”
County Council Chairman Mel Franklin said he and his council colleagues do not see furloughs as an option. Instead, council members have suggested dipping into the county’s economic development incentive fund—a $50 million appropriation approved to support multiple fiscal year appropriations of $7-11 million level per year for projects that will help the county grow its commercial tax base, increase job retention and attraction, increase support for small and local businesses, and promote transit-oriented development as well as other factors.
“There is opposition on the council to do furloughs at all and for good reason,” Franklin said. “When given the choice, we’re going to look at funds that are not authorized to be used rather than look at furloughing police officers and public safety officers.”
Along with using EDI funds, Councilmember Mary Lehman also suggested taking money from the Revenue Authority.
“The fact is the citizens of this county are the piggy bank for the revenue authority. They’re not making wise investments and they haven’t for years,” Lehman said. “Why not move $3 million or $4 million dollars out of that fund? It still leaves them with a balance of about $15 million. We could go much further than that, but your response is it should not be viewed as a source of funds.”
Himler said the administration does not want to take money away from funds intended for economic development uses.
“The (EDI and the revenue authority fund) were both created for economic development and generating revenue,” Himler said. “We believe, the fund balance that is there, which is not much to begin with, once you start issuing bonds and once you start making investments, it doesn’t take you long to draw that balance down. It impacts their ability to issue funds (for investment).”
Dean Jones, president of the Prince George’s County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, said it is “extremely unfair” for the county to propose furloughs while it has money invested in the EDI fund and other county funds for business and economic development.
“You reach into the poorest person’s pocket while you have millions set aside for economic development fund and rainy day fund, but you won’t touch that,” Jones said. “But you’ll reach into your employees’ pockets and take their money? That’s one of the most unfair things you can possibly do. It’s such a mismanagement of money it’s ridiculous. I don’t understand the rationale behind it at all.”
This would not be the first time police officers have had to go through furloughs with the county government, Jones said. In 2008 the county furloughed employees during the Great Recession, but the climate is different now, Jones said and the county has savings it can use.
In 2008 furloughs were stretched throughout the year, Jones said, but the administration’s current plan would furlough employees over a four-month stretch, resulting in a 10 percent pay cut.
“Some people will miss mortgage payments,” Jones said.
Councilmember Karen Toles said public safety and education are two of the top priorities in the county, and furloughs are unacceptable.
“I just feel some kind of way about us having money out there, we know we want to do other things like attract development and encourage development, but I just don’t think we can do that at the expense of our workers,” Toles said.
As for cutting overtime hours, Councilman Obie Patterson said the county should be able to trust managers to manage overtime hours for their employees.
Patterson also said the county’s budget is not well-structured and officials continue to encounter the same budget crisis and deficits “year after year after year.”
“I just don’t know when we’re going to stop coming back with the same plan and come back with a realistic plan that we can all live with,” Patterson said. “I think we’re doing a great disservice to the citizens when we don’t do that. We waste too much already.”