County Executive Ken Ulman says he will donate his 4.9 percent automatic pay increase to help create an Ulman family fund at the Columbia Foundation.
Ulman said last week that he has been considering the pay raise issue since Thanksgiving because of the worsening economy, and its effect on county spending for fiscal 2010, which begins July 1. At the same time, his family has been planning on creating a charitable fund.
"There are going to have to be some tough decisions made for next year," Ulman said. "County employees will not likely get the kind of raises they're accustomed to."
This year, firefighters, teachers and police got 5 percent raises, plus longevity increases. Other county workers got 3 percent raises.
Ulman said he was reluctant to discuss his charitable giving in public.
"I feel what we give to charity is a private matter. I'd been debating how much to talk about it," he said.
Although the Ulmans were on a vacation cruise in the Caribbean last week, the executive saw his name drawn into the debate over pay raises given to Baltimore's top officials, so he felt he had to announce his intentions. "It's about the message it sends" during tough economic times, he said.
County Council member Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican, said Thursday that he, too, plans to give his raise to charity, split between Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, the Domestic Violence Center and the Howard Hospital Foundation. Several council members said they had asked staff members to research the possibility of not accepting the raises, but were told that was not possible. Donations to charity are the only option if members don't want to keep the pay raises.
Council member Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat, said she and her husband prefer to keep their charitable donations private and out of the political realm.
The executive and council members received an automatic 4.9 percent increase Dec. 2, based on the Consumer Price Index, a formula approved by the last council before the 2006 election. The raises were based on a citizens commission's recommendations.
Ulman's pay increased from $151,263 to $158,675. He will have to pay taxes on the new amount before any donations. Council members' pay rose from $50,421 to $52,892. The chairman receives an additional $1,000.
Unlike other jurisdictions, Howard is not facing a budget shortfall this year, and no employee furloughs have been announced. The county had a $6.6 million surplus from the fiscal year that ended June 30.
A day to schmooze
Access to Maryland's top elected officials is what Annapolis lobbyists get oodles of money for, but it is a valued commodity for local politicians, too, especially with another round of state budget cuts in the offing.
That is why Ulman was so happy to spend a day playing host to fellow Democrat Gov. Martin O'Malley and his Cabinet for the governor's eighth and last "Capital for a Day" event this year.
On Dec. 5, Ulman piled on the schmooze, from a short hybrid bus tour of Town Center Columbia to a visit backstage at Merriweather Post Pavilion. That visit gave the executive a chance to plug his vision for the 41-year-old venue's future in a redeveloped Columbia Town Center.
Before everyone boarded the bus, O'Malley said no lobbyists are allowed at his Capital for A Day events. Ulman said there is one exception, though.
"Although no registered lobbyists are allowed, I can assure you there will be some lobbying going on," Ulman said to the governor as they boarded the bus.
The county executive said earlier that he felt a big benefit of the visit was that county department heads were to spend the afternoon with their state counterparts.
"I want him to leave the day with a little better understanding of what we're going through here - how well we're doing, as well as help needed for improvements," Ulman said before the visit.
Though some might dismiss the Democratic love-fest as a political event designed to help the governor's re-election in 2010, political scientist Donald F. Norris said it is more than that.
"It is at least partially intended to get good public relations for the governor. It is probably also intended to show open and accessible government and to improve contacts with local officials. None of these are bad things."
County Council member Greg Fox agreed.
"It focuses attention on the needs for Howard County," the Republican said.
The event began with a closed state Cabinet meeting in the Ellicott City fire station on Montgomery Road overlooking U.S. 29, followed by an open session with Ulman and his Cabinet, plus several legislators and council members.
Watson, whose council district includes Ellicott City, pointed out the area's three major challenges: traffic, school construction funding and recreational fields.
Budget woes were never far from county officials' minds.
"We will stand with you again to accomplish what we need to accomplish," said Del. Guy Guzzone, a Democrat and chairman of the Howard delegation to the House of Delegates.