General pay raise unlikely in county But Ruppersberger is considering increases for police, others

November 06, 1995|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County workers have little chance of a general pay raise next summer, but police officers and a few others could be exceptions.

With state and federal tax and budget cuts looming, County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III says, "At this point, I don't see that there will be a pay raise" -- despite the wishes of union leaders who backed his election last year.

"If I don't have the money, I can't give it," he said.

The last general pay increase for the county's 18,000 workers came in July 1994 -- a 4 percent boost that was their first in 3 1/2 years.

"The last couple of years our purchasing power has gone down, and our workload has increased 25 percent," said the county firefighters' union president, Kevin B. O'Connor. In light of the raises of up to 5.25 percent given to Baltimore City workers, Mr. O'Connor said denial of a raise for county employees "would be real tough to swallow."

"There's enough money to give all county workers a raise," said Ray Suarez, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County.

Despite the generally gloomy outlook of Mr. Ruppersberger, his administration is considering plans that would produce salary increases for some county workers.

By creating a higher base pay level for police officers in the new rank of "private first class," the county administration plans to craft a new pay platform that would in turn boost the pay for every rank through lieutenant.

In addition, a personnel evaluation of other county jobs would give small hourly or weekly pay raises to about 1,300 workers, while reducing pay slightly for 150 others.

County police pay has fallen behind nearby jurisdictions in recent years, and the executive said he will rearrange the police salary structure if the money is available.

The Police Department still is rebuilding after the recession's budget cuts. The 1,477-officer department just started a 60-member recruit class and expects to begin another class of 40 to 50 cadets next month that should fill all vacancies, Chief Michael D. Gambrill said.

Although enough cadets were found for those classes, the police chief said the salary gap between the county and neighboring jurisdictions eventually will hurt recruiting.

The county police union was the first to endorse Mr. Ruppersberger's Democratic candidacy for county executive last year, but the raises envisioned for police officers have not been attacked as being political. Towson's Republican Councilman Douglas B. Riley, for example, did not see the pay plan as a political reward.

Firefighters did more for Mr. Ruppersberger's campaign than the police union did, Mr. Riley said, but are not slated for a pay reclassification like that of the police officers.

"We've got to do something to attract recruits," Mr. Riley said, and most council members agree -- though they reserved judgment until the cost becomes clear.

The effort to increase police pay stems from a council audit in April 1994 that showed the disparities.

Baltimore County pays incoming recruits an annual salary of $24,885, the lowest in the metropolitan area. Baltimore is the next lowest at $25,496.

The gap widens in later years. A county officer makes $31,108 after five years, compared with the city's rate of $35,929 and Anne Arundel's $33,394. Lieutenants have the widest gap, with Baltimore County again the lowest at $35,726, compared with Anne Arundel, next-lowest, at $39,694.

The police union president, L. Timothy Caslin, said the reclassification is a "commitment he [Mr. Ruppersberger] made to us. It's a fairness issue."

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