Some Washington Area Officials Embarrassed by Automatic Pay Raises

Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson.
Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson. (The Washington Post -- File Photo)
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By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 24, 2009

Amid the furloughs, salary freezes and job cuts in store for Prince George's County employees, the county's next budget includes pay raises for a select group: County Executive Jack B. Johnson and the nine members of the County Council.

The county charter mandates salary increases for top officials -- 5.3 percent for council members this year.

Officials of jurisdictions across the Washington region are grappling with what to do about automatic raises when their employees are bearing the brunt of budget shortfalls. Prince George's officials are exploring whether they can legally reject the money.

"It's actually ludicrous that during this time, after impacting the employees with 80-hour furloughs, that they would even consider" accepting it, said Vince Canales, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89.

D.C. Council members recently declined to take annual cost-of-living increases for fiscal 2010. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted not to give pay increases to its members, the county executive and the county attorney. Those 12 officials also participated in a one-day furlough this year.

Meanwhile, elected officials in Calvert County are slated to get $1,000 more a year as a result of a law enacted in 2005. No efforts are being made to reduce the raise. In Montgomery County, county officials say it is unclear whether council members will receive an increase next year. In Prince William, salaries will go up about $2,000 for members of the Board of County Supervisors. And in Loudoun County, a motion to cut supervisor salaries failed.

The economic downturn and the corresponding loss have led many local governments to lay off employees, cut services and implement hiring freezes. Last fall, the Prince George's County Council imposed a 10-day furlough on all county employees, and the proposed budget calls for another 10 days during the next fiscal year.

Under the Prince George's county charter, salaries for the executive and council are adjusted annually in December based on the consumer price index for the Washington region.

"With the salaries that they are making, I can guarantee that they are not as adversely affected as a crossing guard or a new member of the police force who is making a third of what they are making," Canales said. "They need to lead by example."

With the pay increases, Johnson (D) would make upward of $174,000, and the council members' salary would be $100,291, up $3,204 from the previous fiscal year. The council chairman makes an additional $5,000.

Council member Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel) said he and some colleagues are talking to county attorneys about drafting a charter amendment that would allow the council to reduce the cost-of-living adjustments so that they are consistent with those received by most other county employees.

John Erzen, a spokesman for Johnson, said if the budget is passed with the raises intact, the county executive plans to donate his increase to charity.

"If the county employees are not getting increases, he feels he should not either," Erzen said. "It's not something he is going to keep. You have employees who aren't going to get merit or cost-of-living increases, so it's not right for him, either."

But Erzen said he did not know whether Johnson would support a plan to keep the money in the budget and reallocate it for other purposes, which is something the unions suggest.

Staff writers Ann E. Marimow, Nikita Stewart, Derek Kravitz, Sandhya Somashekhar, Christy Goodman and Jennifer Buske contributed to this report.

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