Pay Increase Is Political Hot Potato

Panel Recommends Raise In Salaries For Balto. Co. Leaders

Council Would Get $42,500

Facing 1998 Election, Some Councilmen Are Wary Of Proposal

April 22, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's councilmen are about to face the politically sensitive task of voting pay increases for the next group of elected officials -- which could include themselves.

After comparing pay in Maryland's seven largest localities, a county board is calling for a 37.5 percent raise for council members and a 21.7 percent raise for the county executive, effective after next year's election. The last raises for council members came in December 1990; the executive's pay last changed in 1994.

The recommendations are sparking wariness -- and criticism -- from some council members, who say their proposed raises are too big.

But Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat who had asked for the review while serving as council chairman, says members deserve more money.

"I've got two full-time jobs that both pay part-time salaries," he said about his private career as an attorney and his public role as a council member. "I'm going to follow the board's recommendations," he added, labeling any criticism "political grandstanding."

The raises were recommended by the Personnel and Salary Advisory Board, a five-member volunteer board headed by Gerald R. Patnode, a campaign supporter of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

The board said last week that council members should be paid $42,500, with the chairman getting $47,500. The board also said the county executive should be paid $109,500 and the administrative officer should receive $105,000.

Council members now make $30,900 and the chairman gets $33,900. The executive makes $90,000, and the administrative officer gets $84,900.

Council members also receive a free county car; that would not change under the recommendations.

Ruppersberger, a former councilman, defends the move to higher salaries.

"If you want good government, you have to pay for good people," he said, noting that the raises are part of the political judgments people will make at the polls next year. "This is a referendum on how we performed in the last four years."

The salary board's survey also noted that the county school superintendent, library director, state's attorney, and interim community colleges chancellor all make well over $100,000, though many lower-ranking county workers make less than $30,000 for full-time work.

It's not clear when the council will vote on the raises. Although most members feel raises are needed, several say the recommendations are too high.

"It's never easy to indicate support for a raise," said Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat. He said he would be more comfortable with a council salary of $39,000 or less, such as those suggested by Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican.

Riley got the council auditor to prepare estimates based on inflation since 1991 and on the average percentage increase for all county employees over that time, including step and longevity increases. Each was about 21 percent.

Riley favors an executive salary of $104,800, a 16.4 percent increase, and council pay of $38,300, a 23.9 percent increase.

He's not willing to go above that, Riley says, and he is critical of the board survey that includes Prince George's and Montgomery counties, where some salaries are much higher than in the Baltimore area.

"I have never bought that," Riley said about comparisons to other localities. "We can determine what's good for our own county and do that."

Comparing the salaries

The executive in Montgomery County makes $106,324, the highest in the state, followed by Prince George's, which pays $96,211, and Baltimore, where Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke gets $95,000. The other Baltimore-area county executives make less than Ruppersberger.

The Baltimore City Council's 18 members get $37,000 each, and council members in Montgomery County get $58,618.

Those in Prince George's get $51,343, but the other Baltimore-area counties pay below Baltimore County's rate.

Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville-Arbutus Democrat, said he fritters much of his council pay away on donations to community groups and causes in his district, and can't raise enough campaign money to use for those purposes.

"Everybody hits you up for stuff," he said about the demands of public office.

Louis L. DePazzo, Dundalk's Democratic councilman, pointed out that if no raises are approved for the next term, the council will have gone nearly 12 years without any increase.

Council makes decision

The council, which alone has the power to set salaries, approved a graduated system of raises in 1990, but all but two of the members who approved the plan were voted out of office along with then-County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen. Council members were then making $29,255 and Rasmussen earned $73,000.

When Roger B. Hayden and a Republican-dominated council took office in late 1990, they got the first round of those raises, but refused to accept more money after the recession hit.

By 1994, official council pay rose to $36,600 and the executive's to $100,700, but actual pay was left at $30,900 for the council and $75,920 for the executive. Before the 1994 elections, the council voted to keep council pay static, and move the executive to $90,000 for the 1994-1998 term.

But in December 1994, having lost a bitterly fought election, Hayden took his full final year's salary upon leaving office.

Salary proposals Job, current pay, recommended raises:

County executive: $90,000/$109,500

Council member: $30,900/$42,500

Council chairman: $33,900/$47,500

Administrative officer: $84,900/$105,000

Pub Date: 4/22/97

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