Council pay would rise 44%

If recommendation is adopted, salaries would be $49,000 next year

November 11, 2005|By LARRY CARSON | LARRY CARSON,SUN REPORTER

The Howard County Council elected next year would get a 44 percent pay raise if current council members agree with a citizen panel's recommendations to boost salaries that have lagged for years.

The panel's 6-1 vote, if adopted, would increase the new council members' pay to $49,000 a year, up from the $33,800 they get now, while the next executive's pay would jump a more modest 8 percent, to $147,000.

All elected officials in the next term would get additional annual raises based on the consumer price index, the seven-member panel recommended at a meeting this week.

Howard council salaries are the second-lowest in the region - $2,700 a year higher than in 1998 - and most Compensation Commission members felt it was time for a big increase. The council rejected any pay increase in 2002, during the recession, though members approved a change in the executive's pay to $125,000 from $98,500, plus annual increments.

"Do I think it's necessary to play catch-up? I think it is. They've been behind for years," panel member Steven Sass of Columbia said at Wednesday's meeting.

Howard's council salaries are just above those of Harford County, which, at $31,000, are the lowest of the seven big metropolitan jurisdictions. Baltimore County's next crop of council members will earn $54,000 each, and Montgomery County's members get $76,654, the highest in Maryland.

Though the vote was unanimous on the executive's pay, Frank Kitzmiller of Dayton, who was appointed to the group by western county Republican and fiscal conservative Charles C. Feaga, balked on the council pay.

"If we approach a 50 percent [pay increase], the people I talked to would be very upset. We're talking about a part-time job," Kitzmiller said, adding that although council members interviewed by the board said they work 20 to 60 hours a week and are on call to constituents, "I got the impression that a 60-hour week is a rare thing."

He proposed a raise to $40,000, but no higher than $42,000. Council members also sit as the Zoning Board, and get $100 per hearing night, and occasionally as the liquor board, for which they are paid $50 a meeting.

After an hour of discussion and numerous attempts to push Kitzmiller to accept a higher figure, the members gave up and voted. They will meet one more time to craft language for their report and then submit it to the County Council.

The council can lower the recommended pay rates, but it cannot increase them. Most council members told the commission they believe a substantial raise is in order. The only exception was Feaga, who said a $1,690 increase would be about right.

Commission members approached the council salary issue from several angles.

"The other thing you have to consider is the cost of living in this county," said commission Chairwoman Lynn Benton, who noted that Maryland state legislators' salaries are to rise to $43,500 in January for arguably less work than council members do.

Several commission members have said that while council pay should not be so high as to attract candidates for that alone, it should be high enough to encourage quality candidates - especially young people with families - to run for office.

But Kitzmiller was unmoved.

"If you got a 25 percent raise in anybody's workplace, you'd think you'd died and gone to heaven," he said at one point, adding, "I didn't hear any one of them lamenting what they are getting."

But Thomas Price 3rd of Ellicott City said the group should not shy away from increasing pay just because it would be a large increase.

"We're going to punish them for biting the bullet back then?" he asked, referring to the 2002 decision to forgo any raise during a recession.

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