What are they worth?

August 29, 1994

Baltimore County thinks its elected top official is worth $100,000 a year (even though County Executive Roger Hayden accepts only $78,957). Anne Arundel County pays its executive $84,000.

In contrast, Baltimore City, a $2 billion-a-year municipal corporation, currently pays the mayor a paltry $60,000.

A panel has been studying elected top city officials' compensation for the past six months. It recommends that the mayor's salary be increased to $100,000. But Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says he would suggest "a much more modest increase" up to $80,000.

From the viewpoint of an official who is facing re-election next year and whose self-interest is involved, Mr. Schmoke's position is understandable. The recommendation, however, does not concern him but the mayor's office institutionally. And the panel's recommendation is fully justified,

As a chief executive overseeing a huge budget and some 26,000 employees, the mayor of Baltimore is woefully underpaid. In fact, the mayor even after the recommended salary increase would make considerably less than some of the department heads, who have fewer responsibilities.

The review panel's other recommendations are not as clear cut. The panel, for example, suggests that the annual salaries of both the president of the City Council and comptroller be increased from $53,000 to $55,000. Even though the latter has meaningful fiscal oversight responsibilities, the council president does not.

Even more amazing is the panel's recommendation that the pay of the vice president of the City Council be increased from $30,500 to $40,000 a year. That makes no sense at all. In the city government the vice president is no major player. A wiser course of action would be paying that official a per diem for each full day she or he sits in for the City Council president.

The hefty increases proposed for the other 17 council members also are puzzling. The panel recommends that the salaries of these officials -- most of whom work part time -- be increased from $29,000 to $35,000. (Comparable salary levels in Baltimore County and Anne Arundel are $30,900 and $26,000 respectively).

Members of the City Council may deserve a raise. But $35,000 is too much. It would only encourage more time-servers to seek the office.

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