A citizens advisory board believes that Baltimore County's councilmen merit a raise, but most of them said Thursday that they would not accept a pay increase.
Four councilmen, including the two most likely to run for county executive, noted the struggling economy, rising unemployment and mounting foreclosures and said they will oppose any effort to increase the salaries of elected officials. The council must approve any increase.
After reviewing salaries in surrounding jurisdictions, the county's Personnel and Salary Advisory Board recommended Wednesday that council members' pay be increased by 2 percent and the executive's salary by 8 percent, effective December 2010, when the new term starts.
"I don't think any one of us would submit a bill to increase salaries, but if they did, I would vote against it," said Councilman Sam Moxley, who has yet to decide on running for a fifth term. "This makes no sense in this tight economy."
State law requires the board, which includes four registered county voters and one county employee, to review salaries of elected officials and submit recommendations every four years. The annual salary for council members is $54,000, with an additional $6,000 for the chairman. The executive is paid $150,000 a year.
"Both salaries are adequate now," said Council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder. "This is the wrong time for politicians to vote themselves or their successors pay raises. Too many people are struggling now in this economy, and it is important to listen to what they are telling us."
After reviewing salaries in Baltimore and in Anne Arundel, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, the advisory board found that Baltimore County's pay lagged behind the $158,300 average for an executive or mayor and the nearly $68,000 average for a council member.
Bartenfelder and Councilman Kevin Kamenetz are considering a run for county executive, a term-limited job that James T. Smith Jr. will vacate next year. Kamenetz said the timing of the recommendation "during one of the most challenging recessions in decades" should have more impact than any comparison to salaries elsewhere.
"Leaders must set an example," Kamenetz said. "Whether a raise is justified or not, it is not appropriate for officials when we are asking employees to make sacrifices. It sends the wrong message."
The council approved a 2 percent raise for county employees but deferred it until Jan. 1, six months into the 2010 fiscal year.
Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, who plans to run for a fifth term, said he would oppose an increase. Councilman Kenneth Oliver said he had not been told of the raise proposal and declined to comment. Councilman John Olszewski Sr. could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, who has served nearly 20 years on the seven-member panel, has announced plans to retire at the end of this term and will receive his full $54,000 annual salary as a pension for life.
Residents have harshly criticized that policy, which dates to the 1950s, when the salary for the part-time job was about $3,000.
The policy could be amended before the new term, officials said.