Clarification to This Article
This article said that the 48 hours of additional compensatory time given to many firefighters in Montgomery County would total six additional days. Firefighters in the county generally do not work in conventional eight-hour shifts. Many work 24 hours and then take 48 hours off. Because of the way schedules are organized, county and union officials said, they expect firefighters to request the extra leave in stretches of 10, 14 or 24 hours.

In giving 117 years of comp time, Montgomery official hopes to heal budget wounds

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

To salve the wounds left by an unusually tight budget, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett has agreed to give county employees the equivalent of more than 100 years off.

The compensatory leave, essentially paid vacation, would be doled out in chunks: The county's general government workers and police officers would each get 26 hours of extra paid leave; many firefighters would get 48 hours off, or six additional days.

If the approximately 8,700 government employees who are covered took all that time, they'd be away from their duties for about 117 years, according to a County Council analysis.

Leggett (D) and leaders of the county's public employee unions signed agreements for the additional time off in the weeks after the passage of a $4.27 billion county budget in May that trimmed overall government spending for the first time in more than 40 years. To close steep gaps, county leaders froze employee pay, imposed furloughs and broke provisions in negotiated labor contracts, including a scheduled 10.5 percent raise for most firefighters.

Leggett said his willingness to provide employees with additional comp time for one year is critical for morale and would acknowledge what employees have given up. "The granting of additional leave is a reasonable and modest concession in light of the sacrifice and concessions made by County employees," Leggett wrote in a letter to the County Council, which is set to take up the matter Tuesday.

The issue has spurred disagreements between Leggett and the council over fiscal and personnel management, politics and government power this election year. Some council members want to reject the agreements on comp time, but Leggett has said that he sent the signed agreements to the council for "information only" and that its sign-off is unnecessary.

The dust-up has added to questions about whether Montgomery's government, even after cutbacks, has too many employees and pays too well. If it can afford to lose 117 years worth of service without much impact, as the Leggett administration has argued, that could mean there's still room for efficiencies, some officials said.

It raises the question "of whether all the employees are providing essential services or not," said council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville).

But Bob Stewart, executive director of the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization, which is part of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, said the public knows it gets good work from his members.

"The Montgomery workforce and its productivity and the quality of service they deliver have been recognized for years" as among the best in the nation, Stewart said. The loss of negotiated raises was a significant sacrifice, he said. Now, "the only thing that was negotiated was the 26 hours" of comp time, he added, saying that he agrees with Leggett on the extra leave. "It's a morale issue, absolutely. His perception is very much on target," Stewart said.

Leggett said the government has saved tens of millions of dollars over the past two years by cutting employee raises and benefits.

At the heart of the dispute over the comp time is what it will cost.

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