Prince George’s scrambles to fill nearly $47M deficit.

Council wants furloughs taken off table

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County executive Rushern Baker III needs to develop a plan for dealing with the current fiscal year within the next two weeks without interfering with the schools.

Prince George’s County Council members want to take employee furloughs off the table as they and the county executive’s office consider ways to make up for a nearly $47 million budget deficit.

“There’s considerable opposition on the council to do furloughs,” said Council Chairman Mel Franklin (D-Dist. 9) of Upper Marlboro. “So we’re going to enter negotiations with the administration as to what response to take.”

Thomas Himler, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer for budget and finance, said the county is facing a $46.6 million deficit in its current year $2.89 billion budget.

Himler said the amount includes approximately $7.5 million in cuts made by former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) before leaving office last month.

The remainder of the shortfall includes higher than expected fringe benefit costs, higher public safety overtime costs and additional election costs than had been budgeted for, Himler said.

Himler said the county identified $13 million in savings last October.

“We canceled some programs, did some other things, so now it’s really the difference. We’re looking at a couple options, we’re looking at a way we can use debt service. We’re also looking at saving some money on some health care costs and we’ve talked about furloughs,” Himler said.

Himler said furloughs for the county’s approximately 7,000 county employees would provide $1.4 million in savings per day, after additional costs for overtime due to lower staff are included. Ten days of furloughs, which Himler first suggested Jan. 6 at a legislative retreat in Cambridge, would net the county $14 million in savings.

However, during a Monday budget meeting with the County Council, Himler said that, due to state law limiting furloughs to one per pay period, the county would only be able to institute nine furloughs at most before the end of this fiscal year on June 30.

Council members balked at furloughing county employees, particularly those in public safety, and several council members suggested the county should dip into other funds.

Councilwoman Karen Toles (D-Dist. 7) of Capitol Heights suggested the county look at taking up to $12 million from the county’s Economic Development Fund, or EDI, which provides loans and grants to small businesses in Prince George’s County.

“We just can’t do furloughs without looking at EDI. That’s just a nonstarter,” Toles said.

Himler said the EDI is vital to the future economic development of the county, allowing it to bring in more tax money in the long term.

Councilwoman Mary Lehman (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel suggested the county look into drawing from its undesignated fund balance of approximately $30 million.

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