Legislators, residents pan city raises

While Baltimore faces $153 million shortfall, officials' pay goes up

Some outraged by increase

Mayor, council head say money needed to attract top workers

February 07, 2000|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

With the city facing a $153 million deficit over the next four years, Baltimore homeowners and state lawmakers are questioning why city leaders would give themselves hefty salary increases.

In the past two months, the mayor's office, the City Council and the comptroller have increased their salaries by a total of $301,000 a year. Mayor Martin O'Malley also has increased the salary potential for his top aides from a maximum of $108,700 to a maximum of $140,000.

While O'Malley and council President Sheila Dixon defend the increases as necessary to put Baltimore on par with other cities and attract top-flight talent, state lawmakers are saying, "Enough already."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in The Sun Feb. 7 incorrectly said that City Council President Sheila Dixon is working full time for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. She moved to part-time status as of Dec. 9, making half her full-time pay of $56,000. The Sun regrets the error.

"It just concerns me what the message is to city taxpayers, when we're facing the problems we're facing," said Del. Brian K. McHale, a Locust Point Democrat.

The Baltimore Homeowners' Coalition, which represents the city's 200 community associations, also has weighed in, and questions why a part-time council would give itself an almost 30 percent raise, from $37,000 to $48,400.

Dixon makes $80,000 (a $15,000 increase) and is keeping her $56,000 job with the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. Comptroller Joan M. Pratt also received a $15,000 pay raise to $80,000 and operates an accounting firm.

"It's just outrageous," said Karen M. Footner, president of the homeowners coalition. "Baltimore City is just seriously out of whack. [The council is] just a part-time job, and they don't do a good job, anyway."

Dixon said she disagrees with the homeowners coalition's evaluation, saying that council members often work full time, even though the City Charter describes the position as part-time.

"What the homeowners coalition should do is look at our schedule," Dixon said. "Maybe they need to come and spend a day with us. I think [the criticism] is unfair."

Salaries of Baltimore's top officials have trailed other cities, in part because former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke rejected significant increases in his salary as the city faced tight budget years. He also said during his final days in office that he did not need a substantial salary increase because he is married to a doctor.

The lack of increases in the mayor's pay kept a lower ceiling on salaries for other top city posts, including the mayor's top aides, the council and the comptroller. The mayor would have to sign any bill increasing those salaries.

Before the increase to $125,000, Baltimore's mayor earned $95,000 a year, well below cities its size or smaller.

Washington's mayor earned $125,900 and Milwaukee's mayor made $119,449, according to interviews and a recent survey by Baltimore's Personnel Department.

The survey also found that in larger cities such as Philadelphia and Detroit, mayors were paid $110,000 and $157,300, respectively.

Aides well-paid

Baltimore has generally paid the mayor's top aides salaries comparable to those in cities of similar size. Now, one of O'Malley's three deputy mayors ranks with higher paid deputies.

Jeanne Hitchcock, deputy mayor for intergovernmental relations, is the highest-paid of the three at $130,000. Michael Enright, first deputy mayor, and David Scott, deputy mayor for operations, each makes $108,700.

New York pays its deputy mayors $156,000, and Washington's deputy mayors earn $118,000.

O'Malley makes no apologies for his top aides' salaries. He said recruiting quality people will allow the city to compete with the corporate world, reduce the total number of jobs and save money.

"I was elected to do a job and, in my job judgment, the best way to do that is to attract top-notch people to have closest to me," the mayor said.

That has meant that at $120,000, Baltimore's two new deputy police commissioners are making almost as much as Philadelphia's top police official, who earns $126,431, according to a recent survey by Baltimore's personnel office.

O'Malley requested an increase in Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel's salary from $115,000 to $137,000, which is $13,500 below the maximum salary of New York's police chief. New York has 7.4 million people, while Baltimore has 650,000.

The national average salary for police chiefs of cities with populations greater than 500,000 is $115,827, compared with an average salary of $76,323 for mayors in cities of that size, according to the International City/County Management Association.

Timing seemed poor

Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, a political watchdog group, said that while the salaries might be more in line with other cities, the timing of the raises seemed poor.

"You don't have anything to show for the money yet," Skullney said. "What they're saying is, `We have made such outstanding promises to you that we need a raise.' "

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