Council OKs bill for fitness stipend

All of the county's fire chiefs except leader to get $600 a year, matching a union benefit

June 09, 2006|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN,SUN REPORTER

All but one of the county's fire chiefs will receive an annual $600 fitness allowance under a bill passed this week by the Anne Arundel County Council, which declined to require accountability as to how the money is spent.

The county's 31 battalion, division and deputy chiefs now will receive the same benefit that was extended to the more than 760 union firefighters in July 2004.

The stipend for the chiefs is part of a broader bill that addresses salary issues for all nonunion county workers. The measure includes provisions for police, fire, correctional officers and Soil Conservation District employees. County Executive Janet S. Owens is expected to sign the bill.

Included in the legislation is a "physical fitness allowance" for all top fire officials except Fire Chief Ronald D. Blackwell.

County Personnel Director Mark Atkisson said the stipend will be included in each chief's paycheck over the course of the year and is taxable.

Atkisson said the benefit will encourage a movement of physical fitness within the fire ranks and prevent issues of "pay compression," caused when the union benefits diminish salary disparities between lower-ranking union employees and their higher-ranking nonunion counterparts.

Although the top fire officials typically don't perform as much physically demanding work as the rank-and-file, they are required to be ready, said Division Chief Stuart D. McNicol, a department spokesman. "Fitness training is important because they don't do it on a regular basis."

Bob Stevens, president of the firefighters union, concurred.

"A number of those folks are in the trenches sometimes," he said, referring mainly to battalion chiefs. "It is as important for them to be as physically fit as well."

The council approved the bill, 7-0, on Monday, but not before some members raised concerns. As with the fitness benefit for union employees, no proof is required to show that the money is spent for a fitness-related expenditures, such as a gym membership, athletic wear or sporting equipment.

Chairman Edward R. Reilly said of the provision: "It seems we are being awfully generous."

The lack of accountability on the money raised concerns for Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, an Annapolis-area Democrat. The council rejected her proposed amendment to strike the fitness allowance from the bill. "It appears that we are giving a raise with no requirements," she said.

Atkisson said that while there's no requirement that the money be used for its intended purpose, "It's encouraged."

Stevens said he uses the allowance for expenditures such as co-pays for his annual physicals. He said he felt "very comfortable that the majority of my members are using" the allowance properly.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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