Large pay raises planned for Maryland's court clerks and registers of wills were kept secret until after the Nov. 6 election, so incumbents wouldn't be challenged, according to the state's comptroller.
The Maryland Board of Public Works unanimously approved the 25 percent raises yesterday. The increases will bring salaries for court clerks now receiving $45,000 annually -- the highest amount allowed under law -- to $56,250. Clerks receiving $40,000 -- the lowest amount -- will see their salaries rise to $50,000.
Salaries for registers of wills will climb from a current top of $45,000 to $56,250, and from a low of $37,500 to $46,875.
Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, a board member, recommended the increases. He said the incumbent office holders had requested that their raises not be made public until after the general election so the extra pay wouldn't lure new opponents.
Goldstein would not say specifically who asked him to delay making the proposed raises public. However, he said it has been customary over the years that proposed pay raises not be voted on by the board until after the election. Clerks and registers of wills receive raises once every four years, he said, and then only through the action of the legislature and the Board of Public Works.
He said that, if the potential salary figures had been made known, "I guarantee you every one of [the incumbents] would have had opposition." Many incumbents were re-elected without challengers.
Noting that clerks and registers of wills may have anticipated a higher salary increase, Goldstein said the raises were fair in light of the state's budget problems.
He also said fee-generating activities undertaken by the clerks' offices are down in many counties. Across the state, he added, deed recordings are off by 30 percent.
Each of the state's 23 counties and Baltimore has one court clerk and one register of wills.
Under legislation passed by the 1990 General Assembly, the board was given its quadrennial prerogative of raising the salaries for both offices. The legislation placed a cap of $60,000 on salaries for both offices.
The vote approving the raises came a day after Gov. William Donald Schaefer, also a member of the board, suggested that most of the state's 75,000 employees may not receive a salary increase for next year because of the state's poor economic conditions.
In other business, the board awarded a $99,876 contract to SALUD, Inc., of Kensington to set up a telephone hot line to provide AIDS information to the state's Hispanic residents.
Kay Edwards, director of the state's AIDS administration in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the hot line will be funded by federal money and will expire in June 1993. She said the agency expects to receive about 80 AIDS-related inquiries a month.