Do The Councilmen Earn The Money?

COMMENT

June 20, 1993|By MIKE BURNS

First of all, it's a part-time job.

Not mine, but that of the Magnificent Seven who sit on the Harford County Council. Theirs is not supposed to be a full-time job, even if the distinguished legislators choose to use their time that way.

Ever since an editorial in The Sun nearly four weeks ago upbraided the council for proposing a $5,000 raise for themselves, we've been hearing about how these selfless souls are grossly underpaid.

Tuesday night, the three sponsors withdrew the bill, while maintaining they were still under-compensated and suggesting they might raise it again through a citizen study panel.

A little history. Council pay was $5,000 a year when the charter was adopted two decades ago. Council members were paid $14,000 in 1990 and they increased the stipend to $18,500 that December. Jeffrey Wilson, Theresa Pierno and Susan Heselton introduced a bill last month to raise that pay to $27,000 in 1997.

That would mean a 93 percent increase in pay in seven years, a 46 percent increase from 1994 to 1997. And that, I suggest, is a bigger percentage pay raise than anyone should rightfully expect, even bigwigs with executive stock options.

Remember, county workers were denied a general raise for two years. They will finally get a 3 percent increase next month.

The proposed increase would have taken effect only after a new council is elected in 1994. We don't know yet how many of the incumbents will choose to run for another term, even after sweetening the pot.

But the rhetoric sounds a lot like they want to make politics a permanent occupation, instead of part-time civic duty. Only two current members have full-time jobs, we're told. Taxpayers shouldn't have to make up the pay of the unemployed.

Raise proponents claim that Harford's pay lags far behind the compensation of council members and commissioners in other counties.

But county commissioners, such as those in Cecil and Carroll, are not council members. They fill both executive and legislative roles and have a heavier official workload than the council.

Nonetheless, I looked at salary scales in 10 other metro an neighboring jurisdictions for both commissioners and council members.

I also noted their respective populations (as reported by the Maryland Association of Counties) and the number of representatives filling that function in each county.

I then came up with a computation of how much Harford council members should earn, based on the pay in another county, the relative population served, and the number of elected council/commission members sharing duties in that county.

In Baltimore City, for example, they would earn only one-fourth of the ($29,000) councilmanic pay because Harford has only one-fourth the population of the city. But because there are 18 city council members sharing the duties in Baltimore, that pay would be multiplied by 18/7ths. The Harford Council Equivalent turns out to be $18,600 -- or just about what the Harford lawmakers are now making.

I have used only council member pay; council presidents get a bit more, sometimes as a token, sometimes because they have extra, official duties. That doesn't change the essential thrust of the comparisons.

The chart below shows that Harford's current compensation is not unfairly low. A small raise for inflation might be in order.

Only by comparison with Frederick and Cecil county commissioners do the locals fare poorly; again, commissioners are different. Compared to Baltimore County, the Harford council would deserve the least money -- and Baltimore County lawmakers have given up scheduled pay increases for more than two years.

It makes absolutely no difference that Harford's part-time legislators are elected from the county at large. They should still spend the same amount of time on the job, shifting some of their load to less burdened colleagues if need be.

Clip this comparison chart and keep it handy when the politicos again get out their begging bowls.

Mike Burns is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Harford County.

COUNCIL PAY COMPARISONS

COUNTY.. .. .. .POPULATION..NO... .PAY.. .. .. .HARFORD

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. OF REPS... .. .. .. .COUNCIL

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .... .. .. EQUIVALENT PAY

Arundel .. .. .. .427,000.. 7.. ..$25,000.. .. ..$10,700

Baltimore City.. .736,000..18.. ..$29,000.. .. ...18,600

Baltimore County..692,000...7.. ..$30,900.. .. .. .8,300

Carroll.. .. .. ..122,000...3.. ..$30,000.. .. ...19,400

Cecil.. .. .. .. ..71,000.. 3.. ..$30,000.. .. ...33,400

Frederick.. .. .. 162,000...5.. ..$30,000.. .. ...24,500

Howard.. .. .. .. 170,000.. 5.. ..$27,500.. .. ...21,100

Montgomery.. .. ..675,000...9.. ..$53,200.. .. ...18,600

Prince George's...730,000...9.. ..$48,800.. .. .. 15,700

Washington.. .. ..215,000...5.. ..$20,000.. .. ...12,200

HARFORD.. .. .. ..184,000...7.. ..$18,500.. .. ...18,500

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