Prince George's council kills proposed 2 percent raise for nonunion workers

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 26, 2010; 8:14 PM

The Prince George's County Council on Tuesday killed a proposed 2 percent pay raise for nonunionized employees, but may take it up again early next year when the county's fiscal picture is clearer.

The measure, proposed by lame-duck County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), would have taken effect Jan. 2 for about 1,600 county workers at an annual cost of about $2.4 million.

Several council members, who had repeatedly asked Johnson's budget director for a detailed update about county revenues, expenses and vacant positions, said they were uneasy approving the pay increase without the information. In previous council testimony, budget director Jonathan R. Seeman had said the data would not be available for a few more weeks.

The vote of 8 to 1 came a week after the council approved a bill that opened the door to potential salary increases for incoming council members and the county executive, already the most highly paid county government officials in Maryland.

Council member William Campos (D-Hyattsville) cast the sole vote Tuesday to give employees the raises. He said he was concerned because the council had taken action last week that would potentially increase council and executive pay. Campos was among three council members who voted to extend a freeze on council and executive pay for two years.

"I cannot feel comfortable having that vote go through last week," said Campos, adding that the council had taken a step that potentially would give raises to members while it was now considering withholding salary increases from some county employees.

Council member Ingrid Turner (D-Bowie) who on Tuesday proposed the motion to kill the raises for nonunionized county workers, said she hoped that the move was temporary and that the council would be able to pay for increases next year. Had the council taken no action, the pay raises would have been approved under terms of the county charter.

"I support raises for employees that have worked hard, that have gone through furloughs and that have not seen salary increases when the funding is available," said Turner, one of four council members running for reelection.

But Turner said she preferred that the council defer the raises until a mid-fiscal year review in January. "I ask that we vote this down and look at it at a later date when we have more information available," Turner said.

Last week's vote on council and executive pay increases rejected a two-year freeze and left intact a one-year freeze that will be lifted in December 2011 and potentially boost pay for council members, who now make $96,417 for the part-time positions, and for the executive, who receives $174,540. The action followed a recommendation by a commission that included close associates of Johnson's, as well as members appointed by the County Council.

The bill to extend the freeze, whose chief sponsor was council member Eric Olson (D-College Park), would have cut council and executive pay if the consumer price index fell, as it did last year. Instead, the one-year freeze, which remains in effect because Olson's bill was rejected, does not include a provision for a pay cut and allows council and executive pay to increase if the consumer index rises.

Because of term limits, the council will have at least five new members after the Nov. 2 election. The county also will elect a new executive, most likely Democratic nominee Rushern L. Baker III, who is running unopposed.

Employee pay in Prince George's has been a contentious issue in recent years, and Johnson's administration has been negotiating contracts that could cost the county about $9.6 million annually if 2 percent raises are approved for 4,400 unionized workers. Pay for school system employees, who this year are taking unpaid furlough days, is handled separately by the Board of Education, though the school system is funded by the council.

The county also faces financial uncertainty because state aid may be reduced because of the lingering effects of the recession and a potential state budget gap of as much as $1.5 billion.

In the coming fiscal year, Johnson has said the county would need about $50 million to cover rising expenses, such as health-care and fuel costs. Seeman estimated that the county might have the same amount in unspent funds that would be available to cover the gap. But he said he would not have specific numbers on revenue and expenses until next month.

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