Fire board ineligible for stipend

Members to get last check

city discovers pay was cut years ago

December 22, 2008|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,annie.linskey@baltsun.com

Members of Baltimore's Board of Fire Commissioners will receive their final paychecks at the end of this month, after a recent discovery by the city's Finance Department that the members have not been eligible for a city stipend since 1996.

A provision authorizing pay for the commissioners was removed from the city's charter when it was revised under Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's administration more than a decade ago. But, apparently, neither the commissioners nor the city department that writes the checks realized it.

The board members have continued to receive nominal pay from the city - roughly $3,600 a year for each member and $4,200 for the president. The Finance Department did not answer questions last week about how much the city has paid out in error over the years, but at current rates, the 12 years of checks would amount to about $138,000.

"The money was in the budget," said Stuart M. Nathan, a fire commissioner was who appointed in 2000 by then-Mayor Martin O'Malley.

"Everyone assumed since the money was in the budget that the commissioners would get paid," he said.

This month, Mayor Sheila Dixon expanded the board to five people, and the error was uncovered when the Finance Department began preparations to add the two new fire commissioners to the city payroll, said Deputy Mayor Christopher Thomaskutty.

"As soon as we identified the problem, we communicated with the fire commissioners and then stopped paying the stipends," Thomaskutty said in an e-mail. City Hall officials said there has been no discussion about requiring any of those funds be repaid.

Most of the city's board and commission posts are unpaid. Exceptions include the Planning Commission and the Board of Municipal Zoning and Appeals.

The lack of pay has not deterred any of the commissioners from participating on the panel, which meets quarterly with the command staff and generates a fire protection plan for the city once every five years.

Commissioners received the news last week. "In hard times when there are cutbacks, you need to cut back, too," said James Crockett, a recently reappointed commissioner. Victor Clark, another re-appointed member, agreed.

City Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., one of the two new fire commissioners, said he had planned on using the funds as gas money to visit fire stations.

"You can't argue with the charter," D'Adamo said.

Dr. Laura Herrera, the chief medical officer for Baltimore's Health Department, was also recently appointed to the board.

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