A story in yesterday's Evening Sun incorrectly reported a city solicitor's opinion on a bill to increase the salaries of City Council members. In fact, the opinion said the bill was invalid because the council "has no power or discretion to initiate salary increases for its members." Under the city charter, the power to raise salaries lies solely with the Board of Estimates, the opinion said. The Evening Sun regrets the error.
City Council President Mary Pat Clarke has withdrawn legislation that would grant a 24 percent pay increase to members elected to new four-year terms in November.
Residents and newspaper editorials strongly criticized the measure, which Clarke introduced only last week, because the city is struggling to make ends meet and because its property tax rate is the highest in the state.
FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION
But Clarke said yesterday her decision had more do with an opinion from the city solicitor than with the public's response.
Her bill would have raised the salaries of council members from $29,000 to $36,065 a year. But under the measure, the increase would not go into effect until July 1, 1992.
The solicitor's opinion said the "City Council has no power or discretion to initiate salary increases for its members." Under the City Charter, the Board of Estimates is the only public body that can determine fiscal policy and initiate salary increases, the opinion added.
Clarke introduced a bill to raise the salaries. But the opinion said the city could not legally spend the money to fund the increases because they were not included as items in the 1992 budget that has already been approved by Board of Estimates. Clarke's bill "is patently invalid" because because it usurps the Board of Estimates' power and violates the regular budgetary process, the opinion said.
Council members have been earning $29,000 a year since 1987, and Clarke's decision to withdraw the measure means the salary will stay at that level for another four years.
Clarke informed members of her decision just before last night's council meeting. She said there was no opposition to the withdrawal.
"Some council members were in favor of an increase, some were not. But every member was in agreement from the start that a pay raise should not come in the coming fiscal year because other city employees were not getting pay raises," Clarke said.
"We laid it out there," Clarke said of the proposed pay raise, "and it didn't work."
Municipal employees, to avoid layoffs, agreed to a Schmoke administration plan to freeze their negotiated pay increases for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. That move will save the city $38.1 million and helped it overcome a $54.1 million revenue shortfall.
Clarke said she expected the public's adverse reaction to her proposal but added that she "would rather take the heat for it now than to have proposed it after the primary elections" in September.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has said he will forgo a pay increase and keep his salary at $60,000 a year for four more years, assuming he is re-elected. Clarke said she would not seek a raise in her $53,000-a-year salary.