City officials may get raises

Proposal increases pay for 17 elected offices by 18 to 26 percent, would cost taxpayers $189,000

March 10, 2007|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

Baltimore's elected officials are in line to receive a big bump in salary next year -- including a $23,000 annual pay raise for the mayor -- under a proposal that will be introduced in the City Council on Monday.

The mayor, comptroller, president and vice president of the City Council and the remaining City Council members -- 17 elected officials in all -- would receive raises between 18 percent and 26 percent. Officials would also receive an automatic 2.5 percent annual raise in future years.

Supporters said the pay increases, if approved, are not out of line with other cities, including nearby Philadelphia and Washington. Under the proposal, the mayor's salary would increase from $125,000 to $148,000 -- still shy of the $200,000 salary drawn by Washington Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

"We wanted to make sure it made sound sense," said Kenneth Taylor, the chairman of the city's newly created compensation commission, which recommended the increases. "I can stand behind these numbers."

For the city comptroller, currently Joan M. Pratt, the salary would increase nearly 23 percent, from $80,000 to $98,000 a year. For City Council president, currently Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, the salary would jump from $80,000 to $98,000. Individual council members' pay would increase from $48,000 to $57,000 a year.

In total, the raises for all officials will cost city taxpayers $189,000 in the first year. The city last increased its pay for elected officials in 2000.

Raises would not begin until the next term, which begins in early December. Officials cannot directly give themselves raises, which means incumbents, including Mayor Sheila Dixon, would have to win this year's municipal election before receiving the extra cash. If the council rejects the proposal, it must wait until the year before the 2011 mayoral election before it may consider raises again.

"Mayor Dixon is certainly not going to lobby the council for a pay raise," said Dixon spokesman Anthony McCarthy. "But she recognizes that this is a process, and she's waiting to see what action the council will take."

Proposed raises for elected officials come just months after Baltimore voters approved an amendment to the city charter that changes the process by which salaries are set. Like the General Assembly, the City Council now relies on a compensation commission to make salary recommendations rather than requiring individual members to introduce a proposal.

City law requires that once the commission makes its recommendations, they be introduced at the next meeting of the City Council. It also prohibits council members from altering those recommendations once introduced. The council must approve the proposal or reject it. If the council takes no official action -- the most likely course -- the new salaries will become law.

The seven-member commission has three members appointed by the mayor -- in this case, Martin O'Malley made the appointments before he became governor -- three by the City Council and one by the comptroller. Taylor said the commission met four times before settling on its proposal.

In theory, the commission -- which was approved by 71 percent of voters in last year's election -- removes politicians at least one step from their pay.

"It takes it out of the hands of the elected officials when you set up an impartial commission," said City Council Vice President Robert W. Curran, who, if he remains in the job next year, would receive a $13,000 annual pay raise, from $50,000 to $63,000. "It takes the politics out of it."

Originally, the commission had considered higher increases, Taylor said, but its members decided that anything more than the 18 percent to 26 percent range "would not have been feasible."

The mayor's salary would be $2,000 less than the governor's $150,000 annual pay but far less than Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy's $225,000 pay. In one of his last official acts as mayor, O'Malley persuaded the Board of Estimates to increase Jessamy's pay by $83,000 a year, making her the highest-paid city official.

Charlene Cooper Boston, the interim chief executive officer of the city's schools, has a base salary of $212,000, but she can earn thousands more in bonuses.

On Monday, the proposal will be introduced -- not discussed -- and, unlike most bills, it will not be assigned to a committee. Instead, it will be hashed out by the council as a whole. Whether it receives a hearing, or a vote, is up to the council.

"It's too early to say one way or the other," said Shaun E. Adamec, a Rawlings-Blake spokesman.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

Mayoral pay

Baltimore's City Council will soon consider a proposal to raise the salaries of elected city officials, including the mayor. Here's a look at the base pay for mayors around the country.

BALTIMORE, SHEILA DIXON Current $125,000 Proposed $148,000

ATLANTA, SHIRLEY FRANKLIN $147,500

DETROIT, KWAME KILPATRICK $176,000

COLUMBUS, OHIO, MICHAEL B. COLEMAN $145,231

MEMPHIS, WILLIE W. HERENTON $160,000

DENVER, JOHN HICKENLOOPER $136,920

PHILADELPHIA, JOHN F. STREET $165,000

WASHINGTON, ADRIAN M. FENTY $200,000

[Source: News reports]

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