Columbia Association's High Salaries

April 11, 1994

Do Columbia Association workers earn too much? More than a few residents are asking that about employees of the agency which oversees parks and recreational facilities in the planned city. At first glance, the evidence says "yes." Over the past six years, personnel costs at CA have doubled, to $10 million a year, for a staff of about 180. CA's top eight officials earn an average of $77,580 annually. The agency's president, Padraic Kennedy, earns in excess of $100,000 a year.

Looks can be deceiving -- or so CA officials would like everyone to believe. Probing the salary issue, they insist, inevitably leads to a more fundamental question: What is CA, anyway?

If it is a private enterprise, CA salaries compare realistically. Association employees will average a 4 percent raise this year; the private industry average is expected to be 4.5 percent.

The association begins to look suspect, though, when the governance of Columbia is compared to other government bodies. Although average raises for workers at CA and those with Howard County government have kept pace overall since 1988, Howard employees got no raises for more than two of those six years as a result of the recession. They also received no merit or step increases for one year. State employees, meanwhile, have been denied cost-of-living increases since 1990, and had merit and step increases frozen during much of that period. CA salaries, on the other hand, have steadily risen in six years; since 1992, merit increases at CA have averaged between 3.5 percent and 5.5 percent a year. That conflicts with CA's claim it is diligently applying cost-saving measures wherever possible.

Association leaders also toss out a third scenario, suggesting that they cannot be compared with either private or public employers. While the recession has staggered other government agencies and private companies, CA has grown in terms of the facilities and services it offers and in the income it generates from fees and liens.

A much-awaited consultant's report exploring the salary issue more closely will shed no new light so long as association officials continue to exploit an identity crisis. They should remember, though, that while a chameleon can captivate us with its many color changes, it is still an elusive and not altogether likable creature.

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