Pay Hike for Mayor and Council?

September 06, 1994

How much is an elected official worth? A committee that spent six months reviewing the salaries of Baltimore City's elected officials has made some interesting value judgments.

It thinks the mayor ought to be paid $100,000 a year, instead of the current $60,000. It recommends that the salaries of both the president of the City Council and comptroller be raised to $55,000 from $53,000. For the council's vice president, the panel suggests a hefty pay increase from $30,500 to $40,000. The 17 other council members would each receive $35,000 a year, instead of $29,000.

From our viewpoint, this is a mixed bag.

We feel strongly that the mayor of Baltimore, the chief executive of a $2 billion-a-year municipal corporation, is woefully underpaid. Even though he has sweeping powers over the budget and appointments, the mayor earns less than many of the department heads who answer to him.

The mayor also earns less than executives in Baltimore County (authorized level $100,700, although County Executive Roger Hayden only accepts $78,957) and in Anne Arundel ($84,000).

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says he thinks the proposed $100,000 salary level is too high. From a political standpoint, we appreciate his view. But the recommendation is aimed at setting the proper compensation level for Baltimore's chief executive -- whoever he or she may be. The proposed level is both justified and fair. If Mr. Schmoke has a problem with it, he has the choice of following Mr. Hayden's example and exhibit his parsimony in public by refusing to take the full amount.

In contrast, the proposed salaries for the City Council and comptroller befuddle us. Again, we are talking about those elected offices and not their current occupants. Because of fiscal oversight responsibilities, the comptroller ought to be paid much more than the council president, who is adequately compensated at the current $53,000. The comptroller now earns far less than the deputy comptroller. That's perverse.

Even more puzzling is the recommendation concerning the vice president of the City Council. The 30 percent salary hike cannot be justified. Perhaps the vice president ought to be given extra for every full day she or he is functioning as a stand-in for the president.

Finally, there is the proposed 20 percent salary increase for council members. It is ridiculous. Part-time officials should not be encouraged to regard the elective council offices as full-time jobs.

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