Pr. George's council shelves vote on raises for non-unionized workers

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 12, 2010; 7:41 PM

Angry members of the Prince George's County Council delayed a 2 percent pay raise for non-unionized county workers on Tuesday, accusing County Executive Jack B. Johnson of withholding information about the county's financial condition.

The proposal comes after a bruising budget season in which Johnson (D) dipped into about $40 million in one-time funds to plug an $85 million budget gap - and the likelihood of more grim financial news ahead.

Council members challenged Johnson's budget director, Jonathan R. Seeman, to provide financial details of the county's finances, but he offered few. That prompted several council members to say that they could not vote on the salary increase without knowing more about the potential gap between county revenue and spending.

"I am just really disturbed that we have asked for information over and over again and have not received that information," said Andrea Harrison (D-Springdale). "I feel it is a blatant disregard for what we do. This makes it very difficult for us to do our job."

After the bill was deferred, Camille Exum (D-Seat Pleasant), who chairs the council's fiscal policy committee, said, "We want to make certain that we do not put the citizens or the next county executive in a precarious position."

Exum said she would reschedule the measure for further discussion only if Johnson's administration provides the data the council is seeking.

The pay raise Johnson proposed would cost the county about $2.4 million per year for 1,600 nonunion employees, beginning Jan. 1.

At the same time, the administration is negotiating with county unions and has predicted that if 2 percent raises are agreed to, the cost for unionized workers would be about $9.6 million annually.

Johnson recently told The Washington Post that he predicted a budget gap of at least $50 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1, adding that it could be higher but that he was not certain.

Depending on how much money the county gets in state aid and whether its revenues match projections, the budget gap could balloon. The county's annual budget is about $2.6 billion. About half goes to public schools, and the charter requires a balanced budget annually.

Ingrid Turner (D-Bowie), one of four council members seeking reelection Nov. 2, said Johnson's administration had failed to provide the council with budget figures, had not explained agency spending and had cut services.

Turner said constituents have complained that the county had cut back on leaf collection and added that she felt uncomfortable acting on the pay-raise proposal without understanding the big picture. "I don't know if we have looked at a comprehensive plan to see if we should restore some things that were cut," she said.

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