Several hundred Montgomery County teachers, firefighters, police officers and other employees staged a rally yesterday to protest County Executive Neal Potter's recent suggestion that they forgo cost-of-living pay raises to help ease the county's fiscal crisis.
"The county isn't bankrupt. The county isn't New York City," said Mark Simon, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, the union representing 7,500 teachers, who are scheduled to receive a 6.5 percent raise in July. "Our message to Mr. Potter is, don't take the easy way out. Don't balance the budget on the backs of our teachers, bus drivers, firefighters, police."
The rally in front of the executive office building in Rockville followed Potter's briefing for County Council members on the ongoing deliberations for his 1992 spending plan.
Again, Potter estimated next year's budget shortfall at $175 million, but cautioned that the figure could increase if the economy does not improve by the fall and if state aid to the county is also reduced. Recently, he said that the county could face either massive layoffs or dramatic increases in property tax bills if the workers don't relinquish their raises.
The rally came a day after municipal union leaders in the District rejected Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon's call for furloughs or deferring pay raises to reduce the city's $300 million deficit. Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening is considering asking union members there to forgo pay raises or face layoffs.
In a prepared statement yesterday, Potter said that he understands the protesters' "deep concerns," but stood by his position that drastic measures are unavoidable.
"I am deeply troubled," he said, "by the inescapable choice of laying off over 2,000 employees or reducing the planned pay raise for next year . . . . Other area jurisdictions and the state government have already announced wage freezes for next year . . . . Montgomery County employees are committed, productive people. I am confident they are willing to share the burden placed on us by this deficit."
The Montgomery protesters, representing six unions, held placards indicating that they don't accept Potter's reasoning: "We Elected You to Take the Heat -- Not Pass the Buck," said one. "Is it Fair or is it Potter?" said another.
Jeff Orlando, a police services aide, said he is outraged by the idea that he and other county employees are being asked "to pay for the deficit in the county budget."
"I'm really disappointed," said Orlando, a county employee for nine years. "Usually, I'm very pro-government, pro-authority; but this -- they're pushing this down our throats."