Baltimore County's salary shuffle

May 05, 1994

The Baltimore County Council still can't make up its collective mind about how much to pay members of the next council and the county executive. Election-year politics are bollixing the process.

Two Democratic councilmen, Melvin G. Mintz of Pikesville and Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Timonium, are running for county executive and eyeing each other closely on this matter. Neither candidate wants to be rapped on the campaign trail for supporting annual council and executive salaries too high for the public's taste. Nor do the council members who plan to seek re-election.

Consequently, a raft of recommendations have been made, with council salaries ranging from the current $30,900 to $34,917, and executive compensation ranging from $75,000 to $90,630.

Council members are now paid $36,600, and the executive is paid $100,700, but the legislators and County Executive Roger B. Hayden have declined their raises in light of the government's fiscal woes of the past few years. Mr. Hayden, the self-proclaimed non-politician and another probable candidate for re-election, has also played politics over salaries by suggesting the yearly compensation for the office be frozen at the $75,920 he now accepts.

As much as they hate to make this decision, the council must end its awkward dance around the pay issue. Even Messrs. Mintz and Ruppersberger ought to acknowledge the absurdity of having a county executive who earns less than some of his underlings, as is the case in the Hayden administration.

Administrative Officer Merreen E. Kelly, for example, pulls in almost $9,000 a year more than his boss. This imbalance needs to be righted. The salary for Baltimore County's top government official should be commensurate with the duties of the county executive, whose full-time job entails running one of Maryland's largest, most complex jurisdictions and overseeing a $1 billion budget.

Council members, however, are part-timers amply paid at $30,900 a year. Indeed, Baltimore County has the highest-paid council in the Baltimore region. Setting a loftier salary would likely lead to candidates aiming more at the money than the chance to serve the public, and to incumbents creating busy-work to justify the paycheck and thus causing Washington-style gridlock.

The council should give the full-time executive his full due, yet hold itself to its more than adequate part-time pay. Then maybe these elected officials can quit their embarrassing salary shuffle and concentrate on more important business.

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