By small margin, county employees earning less than they did in '86 Inflation has outpaced pay growth of past decade

June 02, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County employees, who will not receive a raise for the third consecutive year, are earning less than they did 10 years ago.

But not by much.

Excluding schoolteachers, county employees have received raises averaging 3.3 percent over the last 10 years. Inflation, meanwhile, has driven up the cost of living an average of 3.4 percent each year. That means Anne Arundel workers have failed to keep pace with rising prices.

"It's something that has to be examined," said Councilman William C. Mulford II, an Annapolis Republican. "I think we have to give a raise to county employees. That has to be our No. 1 priority next year."

Anne Arundel teachers make 4.5 percent more than they did in 1986. Then-County Executive O. James Lighthizer, who left office in 1990, gave teachers 9 percent raises in the last three years of his tenure. Teachers also will not receive more pay in this year's budget.

County Executive John G. Gary, a Republican who campaigned in 1994 on curtailing personnel costs, has said employees will receive a raise before his term ends in 1998. The issue was one of the most controversial in this year's budget talks.

Administration officials argue that while county employee wages have not tracked rising prices, workers have been protected by their benefits from a prime factor in inflation: health care costs.

"To a certain extent, we immunize them against inflation," said John R. Hammond, the county's budget officer.

A series of administration reforms, which link future pay increases to job performance, make across-the-board raises a thing of the past. A 1-percent raise for all county employees would cost $5.5 million a year in salary and benefits, an amount equal to 4 cents on the property tax rate.

So, too, does a 1992 anti-tax ballot initiative that has fundamentally altered county finance. Stagnant wages for county employees are, in many ways, less a political choice than a reflection of the public's will.

The voter-approved tax ceiling, which prevents the county's budget from growing faster than inflation, puts finding extra money at a premium.

"What really, really hurt us is the tax cap," said Councilman George F. Bachman, a Linthicum Democrat and staunch labor supporter. "From what I can see, it's not in the future of this administration to change the wage policy."

This year, the County Council sided with the Gary administration to resolve the bargaining impasse with two public-safety unions. Bachman called the ruling "a major setback."

But, he warned, "To correct anything in today's climate is very, very difficult. A lot of their raises in the past came before the tax cap. That has really tied our hands."

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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