No-Win Pay Raises

April 17, 1995

Carroll's commissioners have promised to give county employees an across-the-board raise next year. Whatever its size -- as yet unannounced -- the commissioners are likely to provoke outrage from Carroll taxpayers who are facing a higher piggyback income tax rate.

During the early years of this decade, the county suspended all general pay increases for its 600 workers. In the past two years, county workers have received across-the-board pay raises.

Tension between employees for county government and the education department has resurfaced over the pay issue. County workers believe that they should receive a raise equal to or greater than the 3 percent raise the school board has agreed to give teachers and other education employees in each of the next two years.

The commissioners, who would have to plug a budget shortfall without the proposed increase in the piggyback income tax, are caught in the middle. They want to hold down county salary increases, but also realize that unless pay levels stay competitive, experienced and skilled workers will leave. Most private employers face the same dilemma. Striking a balance between what the county can afford and the appropriate pay level to retain workers is never easy.

Representatives of the Maryland Classified Employees Association have asked the commissioners for a $1,500 raise. At a meeting earlier this month, the commissioners told union officials they were setting aside money to finance a raise for county workers but were vague about the amount.

Last year, the commissioners awarded county workers raises of $1,000 or 3 percent, whichever was greater. The practice is likely to continue. Lump-sum increases are of greater benefit to county workers at the lower pay levels than are percentage increases.

The commissioners should again award an across-the-board increase similar to the one last year because that is the most equitable way to compensate county employees. Regardless of the level of pay they ultimately choose, the commissioners aren't likely to receive accolades from either the taxpayers or county employees camps. Actually, a little disgruntlement on both sides would probably signal a worthy compromise.

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