County managers bracing for smaller bonuses and raises

`Half as much money' as last year set aside

debate on union benefits renewed

September 19, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Nearly 1,000 management-level Anne Arundel County employees are bracing for smaller bonuses and merit raises this year compared with last year, when some staffers received cash gifts or salary increases worth more than $7,000.

Concerned about the economy, county officials have set aside $1.25 million this year to cover merit awards and salary increases for workers not represented by unions, compared with $2.5 million last year. The cutback was discussed during budget talks earlier this year.

"The fact is, there is half as much money available" for cash bonuses and raises, said Budget Officer John R. Hammond, referring to the county's "pay for performance" program, which covers 940 employees. "What we have is all we have."

The result for many employees - from county Recreation and Parks Director Dennis Callahan, who received an $8,000 raise last year, to a low-level administrator in the Department of Planning and Zoning who received a $24 raise in 2001 - is less money to go around.

For some, especially county police and fire management officials, the situation has raised questions of fairness and renewed debate about the benefits of union representation.

Both professional groups could pursue a change in local law that would allow them to be represented in collective bargaining by organized labor, which would negotiate with county officials to set salaries and benefits.

"Police lieutenants have never been crazy about [pay for performance] compensation because it's far too arbitrary," said O'Brien Atkinson, president of the Anne Arundel County Fraternal Order of Police. He added that most lieutenants say the program is prone to favoritism and that some make less money than the officers they supervise.

Just as countless chief executives nationally have slashed employee benefits to cut costs, many elected officials in the Baltimore metropolitan area have significantly reduced salary perks to pay for such items as road repairs, math books and sewer line extensions.

In Howard County, no employee, including union members, will receive a cost-of-living raise in the 2002-2003 budget cycle. In Carroll County, where employees received a 3 percent raise last year, the pay increase this year will be 2 percent. And in Baltimore County, cost-of-living raises are out, but some employees could get a salary boost based on years worked.

Anne Arundel employees could fare better, but the odds are that no one will receive more than they received last year, when County Executive Janet S. Owens doled out bonuses totaling $1.84 million.

County officials said recently that no employee should be surprised by the cutback, given Maryland's overall economic outlook. State officials announced recently that they expect as much as a $1.7 billion budget shortfall in the 2003-2004 budget cycle.

Under the current pay formula, county employees not represented by a union will receive a 2 percent cost-of-living raise effective Jan. 1, 2003. Most union employees will receive more than that - as much as 5 percent for police sergeants, and 4 percent for firefighters and detention center officers.

"You lose out by being promoted," the FOP's Atkinson said, adding that some officers pass up posts as lieutenants because they can earn more money through union-negotiated salary increases and by working overtime. "There's more responsibility as a lieutenant, but not more money."

Atkinson said that many lieutenants have asked that the union, to which about two-thirds belong, be allowed to bargain on their behalf. Currently, the county charter considers them management.

Michael Hall, president of the Anne Arundel County Professional Fire Officers organization, said that while fire battalion and division chiefs chafe at bonuses for the same reasons as police lieutenants, they aren't as eager to join a union. Still, he said that come December, when employees typically receive bonuses and pay raises, the issue will surely be raised.

Owens and other county officials have been reticent to approve such a change for fear that it could drive up personnel costs. But Atkinson said he met with Owens and Mark Atkisson, director of personnel, on Monday to discuss the idea. Owens promised to consider it, he said.

"The door is definitely still open," he said yesterday.

Union representatives recently asked council members if they'd support legislation to give lieutenants full union benefits, and a majority said they would, Atkinson said. Still, most council members said they're waiting for Owens to make the first move.

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