Board scraps idea of raise

Commissioners' plan for monthly allowance caused public outcry

They receive $12 a day

Plan would have cost taxpayers $10,900 more per year

April 20, 1999|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

In the face of public opposition, the county commissioners scrapped yesterday plans to replace their $12 per diem with a monthly allowance.

The $675 allowance would have covered car and home office expenses, and would have been in addition to each commissioner's $32,500 part-time salary. The proposal came under attack shortly after it was announced during a public budget hearing April 1.

Several angry citizens called the commissioners. A few wrote letters opposing the allowance.

"People are looking at it like we're some kind of crooks," said Julia Walsh Gouge. "I'm not anxious to sit that out. I thought we were going about this in a reasonable manner, but that has not been the perception."

The allowance would have cost taxpayers $24,300 a year, about $10,900 more than the commissioners currently receive for their per diem and mileage.

Under the proposal, each of the three commissioners would have received $100 a month for the cost of computers, telephones and other office equipment used while conducting county business at home. They also would have received $575 a month, enough for a car lease, insurance, maintenance and fuel. The school superintendent and the president of Carroll Community College receive similar benefits.

Gouge, president of the board, and Commissioner Donald I. Dell initially supported the proposed allowance.

"I thought it was reasonable," said Dell.

"We do not work 24 hours in a week," Gouge said, referring to the number of hours for which the commissioners are paid. "We work 40-plus hours. We work weekends and we work nights."

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier agreed with Gouge, saying that being a commissioner is more than a full-time job. But, Frazier said, she would not support any proposal that would allow the board to increase its own compensation.

"I never wanted it," Frazier said of the allowance. She has repeatedly suggested that the commissioners ask the legislature for a pay increase, a proposal that Gouge appeared ready to embrace yesterday.

"I think this is something the legislators will have to look at for the next board," Gouge said. Dell did not comment.

The commissioners receive $12 a day when they show up to work or appear at an official function. Now that the proposed allowance has been scrapped, the $12 per diem will remain, said Steven Powell, director of the county Department of Management and Budget.

The per diem is paid in addition to the commissioners' part-time salary and daily expenses, such as gasoline and meals. The commissioners will include it in next year's budget, Powell said. The budget must be adopted by the end of May.

The issue of compensation has been a hot topic since November, when the former board increased its daily allowance from $12 to $90. The extra $78 per day would have made the Carroll commissioners the highest-paid part-time elected officials in Maryland.

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

Defending the vote, Yates and Dell said the commissioners were entitled to 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 asked Powell to study the issue and 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 per diem constituted a salary because it was not tied to expenses. As a salary, it could be increased only by the state legislature, the opinion said.

Pub Date: 4/20/99

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