Board may drop per diem money

Two commissioners favor monthly allowance of $675

April 02, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

The county commissioners are likely to scrap their $12 per diem allowance, which the last board increased 650 percent before reversing its decision in the face of public opposition.

In its place, the new board would receive a $675 monthly allowance to cover car and home office expenses.

The monthly allowance would be in addition to the commissioner's $32,500 part-time salary.

Similar to the perks enjoyed by the school superintendent and the president of Carroll Community College, the $575 monthly car allowance is enough for a car lease, insurance, maintenance and fuel. Each commissioner would also receive $100 a month for the cost of computers, telephones and other office equipment used while conducting county business at home.

The proposed allowance would cost $24,300 per year -- about $10,900 more per year than what the commissioners currently receive for their daily allowance and mileage.

Two of the three commissioners supported the proposal, which was presented yesterday during the commissioners' budget hearing.

"I think it's reasonable," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who had voted to increase the daily allowance from $12 to $90 as a member of the last board, agreed.

"I think it's a good plan. It takes away all the paperwork," he said.

Currently, the commissioners must keep track of their mileage.

But Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier was dubious.

"I'm content with current amount of pay," she said.

Frazier said being a commissioner is more than a full-time job and that asking for pay is reasonble. But raising their own pay is not.

"I think we need to ask through the legislature to get a wage increase," she said.

The commissioners will vote on the proposal as part of next year's budget, which must be adopted by the end of next month. If supported, the monthly allowance would go into effect July 1. Currently, the commissioners receive $12 per day -- called a per diem -- when they show up for work or appear at an official function.

"If we stick our noses in the door, we get our per diem," said former Commissioner Richard T. Yates when asked about the bonus last year.

The bonus is paid in addition to their part-time salary and daily expenses such as gas or meals.

In November, the former board in a private meeting increased its daily allowance from $12 to $90. The extra $75 per day plus salary would have made them the highest paid part-time elected officials in Maryland.

Two commissioners, Yates and Dell, voted for the increase. W. Benjamin Brown voted against it.

Defending the vote, Yates and Dell said the commissioners needed to receive better compensation for the hours they worked.

Under pressure from state politicians and the public, the commissioners rescinded the increase less than two weeks later and called for a study to determine what would be fair compensation.

In an opinion by the state attorney general's office released late last year, chief counsel Robert N. McDonald said the vote "was probably unlawful and the commissioners did the right thing when they rescinded the increase."

The opinion found that the daily bonus constituted a salary because it was not tied to expenses. As a salary, it could only be increased by the state legislature, the opinion said.

Steve Powell, director of the county Department of Management and Budget, said the proposed monthly allowance tied to expenses is in accordance with state laws. And it will eliminate the need for reimbursement for local mileage.

"It's a clearer, easier to manage approach," he said.

Pub Date: 4/02/99

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