More pay favored for the elected

Panel ready to recommend increased salaries for the council and executive

October 28, 2005|By LARRY CARSON | LARRY CARSON,SUN REPORTER

Howard County's next executive and County Council members should get substantial pay raises, according to preliminary discussions of a citizens committee readying salary recommendations.

The executive elected next year should be paid $147,000 to start - $11,000 more than executive James N. Robey's final-year salary - and should get annual raises matching the consumer price index, six of the seven committee members tentatively agreed this week. County Council members elected next year should get about $48,000 to start - a $14,200 raise - with a matching annual escalator, five members agreed, though one, Frank Kitzmiller, felt that might be too high. Member Carline Cazeau missed the meeting.

The group is to discuss and likely vote on final recommendations at a meeting Nov. 9. Although the commission advertised for public testimony at Wednesday night's meeting, none was offered.

The commission, which is required under county charter, will submit its recommendations to the County Council, which has the final say.

If adopted, the changes would put Howard's elected officials closer to the top salaries in the region instead of near the bottom. Baltimore County's executive will make $150,000 and council members will get $54,000 after next year's elections, while Baltimore's mayor earns $125,000 and City Council members make $48,000 annually. Anne Arundel's pay is lower, however, with the executive getting $102,000 and council members earning $36,000. A personnel board there is reviewing pay for the next term.

The Howard committee felt that because the council took no increase in 2002 because of the recession and at $33,800 is the second-lowest-paid group among Maryland's seven largest metropolitan jurisdictions, the job deserves the largest increase - partly to encourage qualified people, who may not be independently wealthy, to run.

"I believe it's perfectly justified," commission member Steven Sass said about a proposed 41 percent increase for the council.

"We want people who want to run for this [council] to be able to live on this [salary] if they have to," said Thomas Price 3rd, another member. Currently, he said, members must have a pension, a spouse working or some other source of income to serve the public and live in high-cost Howard County.

Members also felt Robey's successor should get at least enough to be competitive with appointees the executive supervises - a few of whom make up to $20,000 more than the $136,000 Robey will earn, starting Dec. 6.

Robey got a big raise after his 2002 re-election, from $98,500 to $125,000, plus annual raises, but as he pointed out Wednesday night, he still makes less than the $170,000 a year earned by Maggie J. Brown, who heads the private Columbia Association homeowners group.

Robey said he works 60 to 80 hours a week, and he sometimes has to pay for tickets to events at which he is invited to speak. He said, however, that the current salary is "adequate." Robey also said he takes calls from constituents at home, recounting one from someone who insisted he be told when predicted snow would be plowed from his street - before it began snowing. "I have an important meeting tomorrow," Robey said the man told him.

If Robey had received the same percentage increases county employees got over his two terms in office he would be making $143,000 in 2006, committee member Ed Waddell noted. Waddell also asked Robey how he feels about earning a lower salary than a handful of his top appointed officials, many of whom have held their jobs for decades.

"That's the nature of the business. Do I like it? Heck, no," Robey said.

No pot of gold

"There's not a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when you're elected," he said, noting his pension after eight years as executive will be $1,200 a month. Without his pension from more than 30 years as a county police officer, finishing as chief, he couldn't have afforded to serve, he said.

Although pay is not the most important reason people run for public office, commission Chairwoman Lynn Benton said, higher pay could encourage more qualified people to take part.

`Stepping up?'

"Why are there not more people with administrative and leadership backgrounds stepping up?" she said.

Robey said he would not object if the commission recommended a salary for the next executive higher than the $154,290 his top appointee gets, though he acknowledged, "I wouldn't support it if I was running again."

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