The County Executive and County Council have pledged to forgo scheduled pay raises in solidarity with public employees if the new budget freezes rank-and-file wages. But union leaders are complaining about a new bill to boost salaries offered to political appointees.
The council unanimously adopted a resolution Monday night to pass up a $1,000 raise mandated to take effect this month. The move follows County Executive Robert Neall's own decision last month to give up his increase from $75,000 to $78,000 if he can find no money to raise salaries for the 11,000 employees of the county and school system.
But some people are wondering about Neall's commitment in light of a bill he proposed Monday night to increase the maximum salaries offered political appointees not already working for the county.
"Are we sending the wrong signal out to the people of this county?" County Councilman David G. Boschert, D-Crownsville, asked yesterday. "I believe we have to use caution on any type of salary increases for all individuals -- political, classified, whatever."
The county faces $14 million in seniority raises next year even if the unions don't win a cost-of-living increase in their negotiations. A 1 percent COLA would add $4.7 million to the budget.
Hoping to preserve the county's projected $17-million surplus, Neall imposed a county-wide hiring freeze last month and has asked department heads to formulate zero-growth budgets for next year.
The salary bill is intended to help the county attract quality people to fill top management positions, said Neall's spokeswoman, Louise Hayman. The measure would allow Neall to hire people at salary levels closer to the top scales reached by senior appointees of former executive O. James Lighthizer.
Neall has two openings in his cabinet. Criminal Justice Coordinator Francis J. Zylwitis was put on "extended leave" last week, and Budget Director Marita Brown resigned last month to take a similar job with Prince George's County.
Filling the budget job plays a large part in the administration's rationale for the salary bill. Neall is wooing Dennis H. Parkinson, deputy secretary of the state Department of Budget and Fiscal Planning.
Under present county law, Parkinson could be paid no more than 115 percent of the minimum for a department head -- a$20,546 cut from his $86,029 state salary. Brown left the county making $84,559 a year.
Neall's bill, raising the limit to 135 percentof the base salary, would allow him to pay Parkinson $76,871.
"Whoever takes that position will not be making as much as Marita Brown did," said David Almy, Neall's deputy chief of staff.
He also pointed out that Ruthanne Gary, appointed Monday as Community Services Director, will make $48,500. That's $12,820 less than the salary of her predecessor, Rosemarie Church, who has taken a job with the Office of Planning and Zoning.
Gary, a long-time Republican activist, has26 years of business management experience. Most recently, she has served as vice president and controller of the Millersville-based Eagle Construction Co., which she runs with her husband, Delegate John Gary, R-Millersville.
The county is considering people to replace Zylwitis, Hayman said. But his dismissal could save the county money, since Neall is thinking about leaving the job vacant, Almy said.
Freshman Councilman Edward Middlebrooks, D-Severn, said yesterday he supports Neall's efforts to attract top managers.
But if bosses get raises while workers' pay is frozen, then there is no equity, complained James Bestpitch, vice president of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 582, which represents blue-collar utilities and public works employees.
"Everybody has to make sacrifices," he said. "Sure, Mr. Neall doesn't need his little bit (of money). But our guy sweeping the floor and feeding a wife and two kids, he needs his."
Teachers' union president Thomas Paolino agreed, saying all county employees should face the same rules.
"With ahiring freeze, why is he filling the (budget) position?" asked Paolino, who heads the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County. "Are they then saying there are certain positions that are so crucial they have to be filled? In that case, aren't police and firefighters and teachers crucial too?"
But the comparison between rank-and-file andappointees' salaries is invalid, Almy said.
"(The bill) has a comparatively limited impact on the county budget in comparison to whatthe union negotiations will bring," he said. "The county's fiscal situation overall is what's relevant."