Prince George's County yesterday became the first local jurisdiction to announce a large layoff of workers because of the area's economic downturn.
The county, which is facing a $49.9 million revenue gap in its nearly $1 billion budget, will lay off 190 employees in mid-January, said County Executive Parris N. Glendening.
"These are not just charts and numbers," said Glendening, who is cutting 10 workers from his office. "These are real people, families and individuals. We've reached the conclusion that, unfortunately, there is no alternative.
"Of all the decisions I have had to make in 20 years in public life, this has clearly been the most difficult and truly heart-wrenching," he said.
In the layoffs announced yesterday are 81 workers in "general government," 69 in health and environmental services, 20 in public works and transportation and 10 each in public safety and the justice system. Half will receive their two-week notices immediately after Christmas, the rest during the first week of January, said Glendening, who recently was reelected to a third term.
Glendening said education and public safety personnel would be least affected by the layoffs. No police officers are among the 10 to be let go in that department, he said.
To avoid layoffs in the Fire Department, Glendening said, the firefighters union voted without dissent this week "to take a flexible interpretation of holiday overtime pay" requirements contained in its contract with the county.
"There will be no further layoffs during this term, presuming there is not a total collapse of the national economy, which no one projects," he said.
"Obviously, it's unfortunate," said William Proctor, business agent of Council 68 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents nearly 1,000 Prince George's workers. "We're saddened by the whole thing, but we also recognize the reality of the situation the county is in. We're all biting the bullet to the extent that we have to."
To minimize the effect on services, those laid off will be largely support staff rather than those dealing directly with the public, Glendening said. This means those left on the job will have more work to do, he said.
Glendening delivered the bad news after days of speculation that the number of layoffs could be as high as 400.
In addition, 649 unoccupied positions will remain vacant. As a result, the county work force will shrink from 5,939 authorized positions to 5,100 actual job-holders.
In addition, Glendening said, the county will issue only $20 million in capital construction bonds this year, compared with $50 million to $60 million under normal circumstances, to save on interest payments. The specific projects to be affected have not been determined, he said.
The Prince George's executive said it is only a matter of time before other jurisdictions are forced to take similar steps. Montgomery County has a projected $68 million revenue shortfall this year. Maryland's latest projected shortfall is $322 million. Virginia is trying to cut $1.4 billion from a two-year budget.
The county executive earlier announced the layoff of 10 employees in the building inspection and permits office, which is most directly affected by the downturn in the building, development and real estate industries. The last paid work day for these employees, included in the 190 total layoffs, is today.
Glendening said the layoffs, other savings and $6 million the school system must cut from its budget will save $31 million. He said the other $18.1 million will come from reserve funds and other measures. As another economy measure, he added that county department heads have agreed to forgo executive merit bonuses this year.
Those laid off will be assisted by the county in seeking other jobs, Glendening said.