County eliminates automatic pay increases Legislation extends hours, cuts some hourly wages

April 03, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

The County Council handed the Republican administration a victory Monday night by approving legislation that will introduce Anne Arundel's 731 nonunion employees to the pay incentives of the private sector.

Without public comment, the council voted 5-2 to establish a 40-hour work week for nonunion employees, abolish automatic pay increases in favor of merit raises, and reclassify a handful of jobs.

In all, the administration estimates that the changes will save the county $1.1 million annually -- the equivalent of a penny in the property tax rate -- on salary and benefits for nonunion employees.

But the administration has not drawn up performance guidelines for new raises, which has alarmed several council members.

"They have proposed something new, but obviously the devil will be in the details," said Council Chairwoman Diane R. Evans, an Arnold Republican.

Two Democratic councilmen, Edward DeGrange and George F. Bachman, tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill before voting against it. One defeated amendment would have made employees eligible for raises once a year rather than every six months. The council will likely revisit that issue with new legislation in the next month.

County Executive John G. Gary, who has made personnel reform a priority this year, has characterized the legislation as a boon to taxpayers by tying public-sector pay to performance. County officials have spent the past two weeks meeting with council members individually and as a group to lobby for the legislation.

"We have excellent employees who deserve to be recognized for what they do," said Lisa Ritter, Mr. Gary's spokeswoman. "At the same time, during these difficult fiscal times, we cannot reward employees who are not willing to work as hard as their colleagues."

But critics -- especially union leaders who believe the bill previews the administration's labor agenda -- say the changes will make raises a matter of personal whim rather than automatic bonuses received for passing years-worked milestones.

The bill represents Mr. Gary's first step toward fundamentally changing Anne Arundel's personnel regulations, which he has portrayed as a drag on county finances. Earlier this month, Mr. Gary said: "Anyone who doesn't think they need to work a 40-hour week during these financial times is kidding themselves."

Each year, the county spends 75 percent of its $733 million budget on salary and benefits. Mr. Gary has told the county's 3,500 employees that his 1997 budget will not contain raises, the third consecutive year without pay increases.

The measure:

Abolishes traditional longevity raises. Instead, workers would be eligible for semiannual raises of up to 10 percent based on performance and could earn as much as 15 percent more at the top of a new pay scale.

Cuts the hourly wage of 118 employees by extending their work week from 35 to 40 hours without increasing pay. County officials say the added productivity is the equivalent of hiring 15 new employees.

Pub Date: 4/03/96

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