Leader moving up pay ladder

County Council OKs 27 percent raise for the next executive

April 05, 2006|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN,SUN REPORTER

The Anne Arundel County Council has approved a 27 percent raise for the next county executive - to $130,000 by 2010 - while rejecting a cost-of-living increase for members of the next council.

The council this week joined Howard and Baltimore counties in boosting the pay of its county executive after the 2006 election.

The pay of elected Anne Arundel officials, particularly the county executive, has lagged far behind that of officials in surrounding jurisdictions. The $102,000 annual salary of Janet S. Owens, the Democratic executive, has remained unchanged since she took office in 1998 - and ranks sixth among the executive salaries of Maryland's seven largest jurisdictions.

With Howard and Baltimore counties boosting the salaries of its executives next year to $147,000 and $150,000, respectively, Anne Arundel council members said Monday night that they needed to act to attract the best and brightest to the county's top job. The position is full time, and the executive oversees a county of more than 500,000 residents and presides over nearly 4,000 county employees and a budget in excess of $1 billion.

According to county records, 63 county employees have higher annual salaries than Owens. The figures do not factor in overtime.

"We think it's time to cope with this problem," Ernest B. Crofoot, chairman of the Personnel Board, testified Monday.

The Anne Arundel executive's salary will jump to $125,000 in 2007 and to $130,000 in 2010. Those figures were based on recommendations made by the county Personnel Board.

Councilman Ronald C. Dillon Jr., a Pasadena Republican, said, "Getting the salary comparable to surrounding jurisdictions is important."

Owens, who has not supported a raise for herself, said yesterday that she was pleased with the council's decision to raise the pay of the next executive. Owens is finishing out her second term and is prohibited from seeking a third term.

"The new executive should get a raise," Owens said. "The $125,000 is still in my opinion too low in comparison with the other jurisdictions, but I'm happy they will get more appropriate compensation."

In addition to her pay, Owens uses a private car and relies on police protection at county expense. Owens requested the use of the car and security shortly after she was elected in 1998, and Republicans criticized that decision during her re-election bid in 2002.

County officials estimated the cost of salaries, overtime and vehicle expenses at $500,000 for her first four years in office. Crofoot, responding to questions from County Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, an Annapolis-area Democrat, said that "even taking that into consideration, that would very little affect our decision."

To Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat, the pay raise more adequately compensates those who must leave their professions to serve as executive if elected.

"For all of us," Beidle said of the council members, most of whom hold day jobs, "we can continue in our careers and in our businesses. ... When you run for county executive, you have to give up your business and walk away from your clients. It's another consideration."

The council, however, did not feel the same way about raising the pay of those elected in the fall. A county committee last year recommended an annual 2 percent cost-of-living increase for the council, but a council majority, including all four Republicans - each of whom is eligible to serve a second term - has maintained that the base salary of $36,000 is acceptable.

Councilman Bill D. Burlison, an Odenton Democrat who sponsored the bill to ratify the committee's recommendations, said the bill makes sense.

"You talk about the county executive not getting a raise for eight years - that is precisely what will happen if we don't support [the bill] this time," said Burlison, who is finishing his second and last term.

Burlison cast the lone "yes" vote. Beidle and Samorajczyk, who also step down at the end of this year, voted against the council raise.

The members voted in 2002 to boost their salaries by 26 percent to bring them in line with counterparts' pay. Owens opposed that decision.

Frederick C. Sussman, who served as chair of the seven-member Salary Standards Commission, testified that council members in Howard and Baltimore counties would get raises to $49,000 and $54,000, respectively, for the next election cycle.

"If you do not make an increase, the salary of Anne Arundel County Council members will lag behind dramatically," Sussman said. Council Chairman Edward R. Reilly, a Crofton Republican, said he was "confident that the next group [on the council] will be as articulate and motivated" in spite of no pay raise.

Owens agreed. "I think that was wise and prudent, because they are a part-time citizen council," she said yesterday.

But the better pay elsewhere did catch the attention of Councilman C. Edward Middlebrooks. "I'm moving to Baltimore County," the Severn Republican joked.

In other news:

The council unanimously approved a bill to allow for the use of Tasers in the county. Considered a nonlethal stun gun, Tasers are used by 9,000 police agencies in 43 counties, according to a company spokesman.

Dillon, the sponsor of the bill, said that providing officers with a stun gun could reduce injuries to officers and criminals and save taxpayers money. The final decision on deploying Tasers into the field will rest with the Police Department.

At Beidle's request, the council again pushed off consideration of a bill that would require the licensing of off-road vehicles.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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