Prince George’s elected officials due for a raise in tough economic times

November 22, 2011

The Prince George’s County Council and county executive, already among the highest paid county government officials in Maryland, are due for a 3.4 percent raise next month. The increase comes at a time when public employees are enduring pay freezes and unpaid furloughs to plug local government budget gaps. In nearby Howard and Montgomery counties, pay raises are also in the offing.

In Prince George’s, three council members said they will return their raises or donate them to charity. County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), whose salary is slated to increase from $174,539 to $180,473, said Tuesday that he will either turn back the raise to the government or donate it to a nonprofit group.

“It’s awkward. I don’t think I deserve a pay raise after being in office only one year,” said freshman council member Mary A. Lehman (D-Laurel), who was not on the council that voted 4 to 3 last year to defeat a bill to delay the $3,278 increase until December 2012. Prince George’s council members are paid $96,417.

In neighboring Montgomery, County Council members’ annual salaries are due to rise next month by 5 percent, to almost $100,000. But all nine members, who are paid $94, 351 a year, have pledged to return the increase to the county government. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) is not due for a pay increase this year, but he has returned raises and taken unpaid time off in previous years, a spokesman said.

In Howard, County Council members’ salaries will rise slightly, from $53,400 to $54,600, and the executive’s salary will increase from $160,198 to $163,842. County Executive Ken Ulman (D) plans to accept the raise after having taken unpaid time off in previous years, a spokesman said.

Legislators in most jurisdictions, including Prince George’s, cannot raise or lower salaries for themselves or other elected officials during the legislators’ current term in office.

Still, the timing of the raises has made some elected officials uncomfortable. In Prince George’s, the increase comes as county officials are negotiating contracts with several public employee unions. Last week, the Prince George’s police union declared an impasse in negotiations and called for arbitration.

The formula for the pay raises usually is based on recommendations of citizens panels, and often — as is the case in Prince George’s — it is pegged to the consumer price index.

In Prince George’s, council members have taken different approaches to handling the raise.

Lehman said she is donating her increase to First Generation College Bound, a Laurel nonprofit group that helps low-income students who are applying to college.

Two other Prince George’s council members — Eric Olson (D-College Park) and Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro) — said they will return the money to the county government. Only one, William A. Campos (D-Hyattsville), said he is likely to accept the increase.

Freshmen council members Derrick Leon Davis (D-Mitchellville), who took office Nov. 8 after a special election, and Obie Patterson (D-Fort Washington) said they were not sure what they would do.

Three other members did not respond to questions about the pay raise: Andrea Harrison (D-Springdale), who is expected to be elected council chairman next month; the current chairman, Ingrid M. Turner (D-Bowie); and freshman member Karen Toles (D-Suitland). Harrison and Turner left the council chamber last year before the vote on the bill, sponsored by Olson, that proposed the delay until 2012.

The revenue shortfall in the county’s $2.7 billion budget will become clearer in early December, about the time the raises are to take effect.

Recent predictions by county officials have put the likely budget gap at more than $100 million for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. At the same time, the county recently set aside $50 million for an economic development fund to try to lure businesses to the county and improve the commercial tax base, potentially yielding new revenue.

Vince Canales, head of the county Fraternal Order of Police lodge, which operates as the rank-and-file police union, said that he doesn’t begrudge the elected officials a raise but that he would like to see a similar increase for county workers.

“I would recommend that they all take the pay raise, but I am saying that if you are going to take it, you should also just do what is right for all of your employees,” he said.

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