Baltimore County's newly elected council is squirming on the horns of a dilemma: County Executive Roger B. Hayden requested that it approve a $16,000 raise for his new administrative officer, while most of the council was elected on a platform of cutting costs.
Especially for four of the five new council members, the decision would pit their campaign rhetoric to slice spending and taxes against their desire to support the new county executive, and pay the county's top appointed official a salary comparable to that in nearby counties. Five votes would be required to approve the appointment on the seven-member council.
Complicating the problem for some is that Hayden's choice, Merreen E. Kelly, 55, retired from his 33-year career as a county school official, for which he was paid $83,000 a year, to take the new job and is getting a pension of about $49,000 a year.
Berchie Lee Manley, R-1st, was the only new council member to support the pay request outright. Manley, of Catonsville, reasoned that Hayden also had eliminated two $70,300-a-year deputy administrative officer positions created by then-Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen.
The council is required to vote on the salary of the administrative officer, and so cannot dodge the pay-raise issue as it did when Elwood H. Banister was confirmed as fire chief this month.
Hayden had asked the council to set a specific salary for Banister as part of its confirmation resolution, but he deleted the pay clause at the council's request. Banister, who was making $82,300 as chief deputy fire chief, was allowed to keep that salary as chief. The former chief, Paul H. Reincke, was being paid only $67,600 when he retired Dec. 1.
The council's new chairman, Douglas Riley, R-4th, is in a particularly tough spot. As the first Republican council chairman since the 1950s, Riley is particularly anxious to support Hayden, the first Republican executive elected since 1962.
At the same time, Riley, the Towson representative, was elected as an advocate of spending and tax cuts. He also owes his post as chairman to a vote from Dundalk's Donald Mason, D-7th, a veteran tax protester who is the council's most ardent advocate of spending and tax cuts.
Riley said Friday that he has decided to postpone the vote on Kelly's appointment, which was to have taken place tonight, because the council has not had time to interview him or discuss the salary issue. It is to be rescheduled for the next council meeting Feb. 4.
The chairman said he will ask for two separate votes, one on Kelly's appointment and the other on salary. Kelly's appointment itself is not thought to be controversial, according to council members.
Few, however, are willing to publicly commit themselves on his salary as yet.
Riley said he wants time to think over the matter and discuss it with Hayden, who himself was elected on a tide of resentment about rising property taxes and rising county spending. Hayden, a former school board president and trucking company executive, also favored cutting taxes and overall county ZTC spending, although he had campaigned in favor of better pay for government employees.
Mason said he is reserving judgment until hearing directly from Hayden and Kelly. But, "It's difficult to accept a $16,000 pay increase. His pay impacts right down the line," he said, referring to possible increases for other county officials. Mason also cited hard economic times and his mandate to cut county spending and taxes.
William A. Howard, R-6th, another council freshman from the Perry Hall-White Marsh area, said he, too, has not decided how to vote. He said he has questions about Kelly receiving a public pension and a high public salary.
Vincent Gardina, D-5th, said he's struggling with the same dilemma. The pay raise, which at $16,000 is a third greater than the $12,000 raise the county executive received, "might be warranted," he said, given what officials in other counties make.
"But given the atmosphere of tax protest in Baltimore County, this might not be the appropriate time," the Essex representative said. "I'm caught between a rock and a hard place."
The council's two veterans, former Chairman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-3rd, and Melvin Mintz, D-2nd, view the situation differently.
Ruppersberger said he supports the executive's request, because "the county administrative officer should be competitive."
Then-County Administrative Officer Frank C. Robey's $69,000 salary was the lowest in the metropolitan area, except for Carroll County. Anne Arundel County, with two-thirds of Baltimore County's population, pays its administrative officer $109,000. Howard County, smaller still with about a fourth of Baltimore County's population, pays $86,785.
Ruppersberger said the council can satisfy the voters' mandate to cut spending and taxes when the budget comes under review, not by making symbolic gestures such as trimming the administrative officer's pay by a few thousand dollars.
"The bottom line is what we do on the budget," said Ruppersberger, of the north county.
Mintz said he believes that "$85,000 in today's world is an appropriate salary. I have no problem with paying Merreen Kelly $85,000."
However, the Pikesville-Randallstown council member said he is worried that approving $16,000 more for Kelly could lead to higher salaries for other appointed department heads. He has suggested a gradual pay increase for Kelly, ending at $85,000 after several years.