County Council says it's inclined to give raises to veteran police

May 16, 2008|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,Sun reporter

After finding $3.6 million to cut from the Baltimore County budget, council members said yesterday that they are inclined to give raises to veteran police officers next year.

The vote on the budget proposed by County Executive James T. Smith Jr. is to be held next week. But during the final budget review session yesterday, the county lawmakers found cuts to offset the expense of providing a 4 percent raise to police officers with more than nine years of experience.

No other employees, including teachers, will receive cost-of-living salary increases next year.

The $2.58 billion operating budget does not call for increases in the tax rate or in fees. Also, the spending plan does not exceed what the county auditor believes the county can afford based on revenue projections for the fiscal year that begins in July.

"I don't think this council would pass a budget that exceeds spending affordability guidelines," said Kevin Kamenetz, council president.

He added, however, that "I know we are all frustrated that we can't provide a solution to all employees."

The council members cannot add to or shift funds in the budget proposed by the county executive, who was required by law to include the police raises. To comply with spending affordability guidelines, the council needed to offset the cost of the raises.

Police union leaders said the salary scale restructuring was needed to keep the pay of county officers competitive with officers in nearby jurisdictions and an independent arbitrator agreed that the county could afford the raises.

Union leaders said they were disappointed that the council members were voting on the arbitrator's findings on each dispute with the county administration, rather than voting to support the arbitrator's overall finding in favor of the union.

"It's unfortunate that [the Smith administration] chose to involve the council in a line-by-line analysis," said Cole B. Weston, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge that represents the county officers. "The county executive didn't win the arbitration, so he tried to figure out a way to take a shot at police officers and their families."

A spokesman for Smith and other council members said they felt they had to consider the arbitrator's recommendation on each item.

"This is a classic case of checks and balances," said Donald I. Mohler III, a county spokesman. "The council and executive are extremely supportive of the Police Department."

Binding arbitration was a right won by police and firefighters after county voters approved the process in a referendum several years ago.

Because of the referendum, Councilman John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat, said he agreed that the council should uphold the overall finding of the arbitrator's award in favor of the union.

Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat, said, "Residents didn't abdicate fiscal authority" of the council by approving binding arbitration.

"We exercised independent discretion as required by [the] county charter," he said.

Most council members said they are inclined to agree with the arbitrator's recommendations on each disputed issue.

The council is set to adopt the budget May 22.

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