Mayor and other top city officials deserve pay raises, panel says

August 19, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

Is it time to give Baltimore's highest-ranking officials a pay raise?

A commission that spent the past six months reviewing the salaries of the mayor, comptroller and City Council thinks so.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke makes much less money than any other mayor in cities with comparable populations across the nation, the Elected Officials Compensation Commission found.

And the five-member panel concluded the comptroller, council president and 18-member council deserve a raise after going without one for the past seven years.

The commission recommended increasing the mayor's annual salary from $60,000 to $100,000, the council vice president's salary from $30,500 to $40,000 and other council members' pay from $29,000 to $35,000. However, the comptroller and council president, who make $53,000 a year, would get only a $2,000 raise under the proposal.

Most officials hesitated to endorse the commission's findings yesterday, given the sensitivity of the subject, particularly in a city perpetually strapped for cash.

Mr. Schmoke was quick to note that he would suggest "a much more modest increase in the mayor's salary" to $75,000 or $80,000. And Council President Mary Pat Clarke argued the proposal was out of line with the small pay raises municipal workers received this year.

Any salary increases would have to be approved by City Council and would not take effect until December 1995, after the city elections.

A number of council members already were reluctant yesterday at the prospect of voting to give themselves a raise right before an election, even if the increases don't go into effect until afterward.

"It is going to turn into a big political fight this fall," predicted 4th District Democrat Sheila Dixon. "I think the mayor particularly needs to earn more than he is earning, and I thought the rest was OK. It wasn't outrageous. But it's a bad time."

Third District Democrat Martin O'Malley agreed with Mrs. Clarke, who responded to the report with a sharp memo suggesting that elected officials receive the same raises as most municipal employees, whose raises averaged 2.25 percent to 4 percent this year.

"We give our police next to nothing at the bargaining table and then we would vote ourselves a raise? I don't think so," Mr. O'Malley said.

In an Aug. 1 letter to Andrew Jay Graham, a private attorney who chaired the commission, Mrs. Clarke suggested a formula using 2.25 percent raises over the next four years. The mayor's salary would increase to $61,350 in 1996 and to $65,584 by the end of the term.

"No way is $100,000 justified," wrote Mrs. Clarke, who is planning to challenge the mayor next year.

In a rare moment at City Hall, Mrs. Clarke and Mr. Schmoke were saying the same thing about his salary. But he said he supported the raises for council members.

Some union representatives who had backed the notion of raises only six months ago were less enthusiastic yesterday.

The Baltimore Teachers Union has tried for years to achieve parity with the surrounding jurisdictions with little support from the Schmoke administration, said spokeswoman Linda Prudente. "So we find it kind ironic that they would be so open to getting parity for the mayor and council members," she said.

Mr. Graham said he "tried to match apples to apples" in comparing salaries of elected officials with their counterparts in cities with populations comparable to Baltimore's 736,014 residents. Mayor Schmoke's salary ranked last of 10 similar cities. But figures compiled by the panel indicated Baltimore's council salaries were more representative than the mayor's salary.

Councilman John L. Cain, a 1st District Democrat, summed up his feelings of ambiguity about the raises, to be considered when council returns from summer recess next month.

"I am squarely on the fence . . . ," he said.

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