About 50 Pr. George's Employees Let Go in Face of Budget Gap

By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 2, 2009; 5:43 PM

About 50 Prince George's County employees across numerous departments were told Friday that they would be laid off, effective Nov. 1, as part of an effort to close a $22.7 million budget gap left by recent state funding cuts.

Layoffs were largely concentrated among supervisory and administrative positions and spanned agencies including the offices of the county executive, finance, community relations, information technology, central services, sheriff, public works, social services, family services, fire and EMS and the departments of health and corrections.

"We just have to do more with less, which is what we've been doing for the last two and a half years," Keary said. "We wouldn't have had to do this if we hadn't been cut by the state."

Keary declined to release the exact number of people cut from each office, saying the numbers were being finalized. He said most offices saw losses of one to six people, though the office of central services -- in charge of building operations, construction, procurement and other duties -- lost about 12.

Though more layoffs are pending, the total will be lower than the potential amount mentioned in a recent announcement by County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), said Johnson's spokesman, James Keary. The original estimate -- as many as 125, with up to 40 coming from the health department -- was based on an average salary. On Friday, several more highly paid employees were let go, reducing the overall number needed to close the budget gap, Keary said.

The health department -- the target of $2.7 million in direct cuts by the state -- laid off six employees Friday, though the bulk of layoffs in that department are still to come, possibly next week, Keary said.

He said it has been "complex" deciding which health employees to let go.

"You've got H1N1 staring us in the face right now," Keary said.

The county tried numerous cost-cutting measures since the start of the recession, including spending cuts, trimming vacant positions, a hiring freeze and two years of furloughs -- one of which was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge.

Union officials have complained that the county could have avoided layoffs by tapping its $182 million rainy-day fund, but county officials say doing that would jeopardize its bond rating on Wall Street. A downgraded rating could cost the county millions in future interest payments on borrowed money.

Glen Middleton, executive director of AFSCME Maryland Council 67, said his union's members represented 17 of those workers laid off so far.

"It's disappointing that we're having any types of reduction in force whatsoever," Middleton said, adding that other avenues, including the rainy-day fund, should have been weighed. "We know that any type of layoffs will negatively impact Prince George's County and the state of Maryland."

Supervisory and administrative positions were targeted for layoffs, Keary said, to avoid cutting too many people that supply services directly to residents.

The county tried to spare "people that go out in the community, work behind the counter and give you a permit, things like that," Keary said.

Employees who were let go will be on paid leave for the month of October. The county will offer them counseling in résumé-writing, job searching and other areas to help ease their transitions, Keary said.

Friday's layoffs accounted for about $4 million in savings, Keary said. The county will also cut $3 million from its contribution to its hospital system, $1.5 million in information technology upgrades, $2 million from its risk management budget and $1.2 million from the Prince George's Community College budget. An additional $1.8 million will be saved by eliminating 25 vacant positions.

The remainder of the cuts will come from reductions in operating costs, Keary said.

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