Hefty police raise

Anne Arundel: Strategy worked well for union, but county can't afford to be too generous.

March 14, 2000

COMPARISONS often tell only part of the story.

For example, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 70 just won a generous pay hike by comparing salaries for Anne Arundel police officers with those in other jurisdictions. It's true that county police are paid less than their counterparts in the metro area -- but as we said, that's only part of the story.

Anne Arundel County has a cap on property tax revenues, which makes it difficult -- impossible, nearly -- to build substantial pay increases into the budget without stretching county funds to their limits.

In that context, County Executive Janet Owens' decision to boost police pay by 17 percent over the next three years doesn't seem so smart.

The FOP negotiators convinced Ms. Owens to award the raises by pointing specifically to the differences between Anne Arundel and Howard County police salaries. In Anne Arundel, officers start at $28,712 and can reach $44,203; in Howard, starting pay is $33,346 and senior officers can make up to $56,708.

Moreover, the FOP argued, Anne Arundel police had gone nearly six years without a substantial pay increase. They got 1.5 percent raises from 1994 to 1997; in 1999, they got the same 3 percent increase that all other county workers enjoyed.

Those are all fine arguments. But Ms. Owens had a greater responsibility to hold the line on the county's budget.

Howard County doesn't have a tax cap, so the comparison to police salaries there doesn't hold up. And the Anne Arundel police raises -- which will drain an additional $3.5 million from the county's budget -- will surely entice other county government workers to expect similar increases.

The county executive can't afford to become Santa Claus when her revenue sources compare unfavorably with those of other area jurisdictions.

Ms. Owens should have known better.

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