Make no mistake about it. The Baltimore City Council is not even considering voting itself a pay raise during this, an election year.
But a bill introduced yesterday by Council President Mary Pat Clarke would raise the salary for the 18 council members who represent districts and who are in office as of July 1, 1992.
Their salary, now $29,000, would increase by 24.4 percent to $36,065. The council vice president, whose salary is $1,500 more than that of fellow members, would increase to $37,565.
Mrs. Clarke, whose $53,000 annual salary would not be affected by the bill introduced yesterday, said an increase for her colleagues was fair because the City Council had lived with the same salary since 1987.
She left open the possibility of a pay raise for her own office. While asserting that she would not introduce a pay increase bill ++ for herself, she refused to say unequivocally that she would not allow the council to increase the president's salary on its own.
Council salaries have increased every four years since 1975, when council members were paid $12,000. In 1983, council members were paid $19,500.
Because Maryland law prevents increases or decreases in the salary of elected officials during their term of office, several council members said it was important to vote a salary increase for the winners of the Nov. 5 election before the council term ends on Dec. 4.
"This is the only opportunity we have to bring our salaries in syncwith everyone else's," said Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki"
Spector, D-5th. "If we don't do it now, we can't."
Councilman John A. Schaefer, D-1st, said that although council members might work full time outside the council, several members, himself included, did not.
Mr. Schaefer, who receives income from rental properties, said, "I think the council is entitled to a nominal raise."
Some council members acknowledged that trying to pass a pay increase during an election year might not endear themselves to homeowners facing high property taxes or to city employees who reluctantly agreed to give back negotiated pay increases scheduled to go into effect July 1.
Nor has it won the praise of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who repeated his promise yesterday not to accept an increase in his $60,000 annual salary.
Although Mr. Schmoke declined to say whether he thought the council was sending the wrong message by considering a salary increase at a time of municipal fiscal troubles, he said that the council might be precluded from receiving a pay increase next year anyway, since council members would have to vote approval of a city budget containing their pay raise. That, Mr. Schmoke said,could put them in violation of Maryland law.
"It's basically an attempt to end-run the City Charter," Mr. Schmoke said.
Mrs. Clarke scoffed at his assertion, however, saying that by Mr. Schmoke's interpretation, the council would never be able to increase the salary for the next council.
"We've researched it," she said. "We've been all the way to the attorney general and Legislative Reference to make sure we are legally sufficient."
The council takes up the pay-increase bill at the same time that the Baltimore County Council is considering whether to accept an increase to their $30,900 salaries to $32,700 in December.
The increases were approved before the County Council members took office last year.
In other business yesterday, the City Council agreed to delay actionon a bill that would repeal a city tax on beverage containers that raises $6 million per year.
The delay was to give the council more time to work out the details of an alternative revenue bill that would impose a $10-per-ton surcharge on refuse disposed in city-owned incinerators or landfills.
Councilman Martin E. "Mike" Curran, D-3rd, said his Urban and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee needed more time to address concerns raised by Baltimore County officials that the fee increase would cost the county an extra $600,000 per year.
Although the fee increase would not apply to the 209,000 tons of trash per year the county burns in city-owned trash incinerators, Mr. Curran said, the county would incur the extra $600,000 expense under the existing version of the bill because the fee would apply to the ashes trucked to a city landfill.