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State offices to close two days

December 23, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Many Maryland state agencies and offices will be closed Friday, the day after Christmas, and Jan. 2, the day after New Year's, as part of a furlough and salary reduction plan to help balance the state's budget.

Local services affected include the Washington County District and Circuit courts, the Washington County Health Department and the Washington County Department of Social Services, among others.

Maryland State Police operations and the operation of state correctional facilities will not be affected, officials from those departments said.

In an executive order Dec. 16, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley ordered routine state government operations "significantly curtailed" on Dec. 26 and Jan. 2 to reduce operating expenses. In exchange for the two days off, employees will give up the equivalent of two days of pay, but it will not come out of their paychecks until later in 2009, O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec said. The two days' pay equivalent will be deducted in the form of a salary reduction spread out over the 10 pay periods between Feb. 11 and June 30, he said.

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O'Malley's order came after an announcement that the budget shortfall for the current fiscal year had doubled to about $415 million, and that next year's budget deficit grew to about $2 billion - twice that of previous estimates. The furlough and pay reduction plan is anticipated to save about $34 million in the state's general fund, according to a press release from O'Malley's office.

This year, both Christmas and New Year's Day fall on Thursdays, so curtailing operations on the following Fridays creates four-day weekends, which saves the state money on fuel and utility expenses, Adamec said. The salary reduction was scheduled to begin in mid-January so employees' pay wouldn't be affected during the holidays, Adamec said.

Rod MacRae, director of the Washington County Health Department's Health Services Division, said the plan worked out well for his agency because many clinics do not offer services on Fridays and the department would have been lightly staffed those days anyway.

"I think the furlough plan was actually well thought out," MacRae said.

In addition to the two-day salary reduction, employees who make more than $40,000 will have to take two to three furlough days between Jan. 14 and June 30, depending on their salary. Those days may be chosen by the employee with a supervisor's approval and pay will be deducted from the pay period in which the time is taken, Adamec said.

Dec. 26 and Jan. 2 are not technically furlough days because the pay reduction is delayed, he said.

The executive order does not apply to certain employees, including direct care employees in health, juvenile services and correctional facilities; police officers with ranks of first sergeant and below, except those in administrative or clerical positions; and certain shift and security employees at 24-hour facilities.

Rick Binetti, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said correctional officers and others in direct care or security positions in 24-hour correctional facilities still will work Dec. 26 and Jan. 2. Fingerprint technicians, sergeants and below in the internal investigation unit, and IT staff also will be working, he said.

The legislative and judicial branches were not included in O'Malley's executive order, but Robert M. Bell, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, issued a similar order Dec. 18, judiciary spokeswoman Angelita Plemmer said.

Bell's order states that the judicial branch will be closed Dec. 26 and Jan. 2 and institutes similar salary reduction and furlough day requirements for some employees, Plemmer said. It does not cover judges or clerks because the state constitution prohibits lowering the salaries of judges, but Bell is recommending that the Maryland Court of Appeals consider decreasing their annual leave days instead, she said.

Most of Washington County's state delegates said last week they plan to give up five days of pay voluntarily to help balance the budget and show solidarity with state workers.

University System of Maryland institutions are developing their own furlough plans, system spokesman John Buettner said.

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