The salaries for some city administrators increased 12 1/2 percent this year, irking city council members who say these raises are inappropriate during hard economic times.
Mayor Alfred Hopkins strongly defended his decision to grant the incremental merit pay increases tohis staff and Cabinet. If the aldermen want to propose a change, he said, they should change it with legislation.
Late yesterday, Alderman Wayne Turner, R-Ward 6, took up the mayor's challenge, promising to introduce a bill in December that would stop all merit increases until Annapolis knows what kind of financial shape it is in.
Figures released this month by the city finance office show that eight members of Hopkins' staff received 5 percent payraises in July. Five of those staffers also received 5 percent increases last January, in addition to 2 percent cost of living increases.Compounded, those figures add up to a 12.5 percent pay boost.
While total merit increases amounted to $59,700 -- just 0.3 percent of the city's $17.5 million salaries budget -- Turner and Aldermen Carl Snowden, D-Ward 5, say the routine approval of merit pay increases is an important symbolic issue.
"We should be downsizing the government, not bloating the bureaucracy," Snowden said. He suggested Hopkinsfollow Republican County Executive Robert Neall's example and cut staff salaries.
"It just smacks of hypocrisy to tell people they have to cut back when they are taking huge raises themselves," he said.
Rank-and-file city employees, as well as members of the Annapolis police and fire departments, did not receive cost of living increasesthis year. Employees who have not reached the top of the pay scale in their classification receive their regular step increases.
Aldermen have been earning annual salaries of $8,500 since 1989.
Hopkins said he treats his staff's merit increases just as any other supervisor in city government does.
"When somebody is due for an incremental raise, their supervisor OKs it unless they have done something wrong. That's what I did," he said.
Responding to Snowden's suggestion that his staff take pay cuts, Hopkins bristled, noting that his fiscal management has enabled the city to retain its high bond rating.
"My goal is to have the taxpayers satisfied and employees who aresatisfied. Let Mr. Neall do that his way and I'll do it my way," he said.
The city charter says the mayor may increase his staff's salaries up to a maximum of one step increase every six months.
"Nothing is automatic, it's all at the pleasure of the mayor until an employee reaches a salary cap," Finance Director William Tyler said.
Finance Committee chairman Alderman John Hammond, R-Ward 1, said it isn't appropriate for administrative salaries to be rising as fast as they are. But he admitted there are two sides to the issue.
"The other argument is, we've got some top managers and we certainly want tokeep them and keep their salaries competitive," Hammond said.
Turner said he believes voters are looking for elected officials to takethe lead on cuts.
"With the state cutting back on its grants and the situation with the landfill still uncertain, I believe this is the right time to change the system," he said.
Turner said he intends to introduce a bill that would "stop all merit increases until we find out what kind of financial shape" the city is in.
A second part of the bill would require council approval for all merit increases.This, he said, would check and balance the mayor's power to raise the salaries of his own staff.
Turner said he originally drafted hisbill last year, but never submitted it after receiving pressure "from those who would be affected."