Council members in Prince George's and Montgomery counties, saying that their part-time posts consume more than 40 hours a week, took steps yesterday to increase the compensation for council members after the next election.
In Montgomery, county council members debated the issue of higher pay for more than an hour before voting 4 to 3 to raise the salaries by more than $5,600, or 15 percent, to $43,000 a year. Prince George's council members, meanwhile, introduced legislation that would ask voters to boost the pay by about $8,000, or 25 percent, to $40,000 annually.
In the proposed Prince George's charter amendment, sponsors contended that "rapid economic development . . . and concomitant legislative and zoning proposals" are in part responsible for increasing the council members' workloads.
"I spend anywhere from 60 to 70 hours a week doing this job," said Prince George's council member Hilda Pemberton, who supplements her salary by teaching nights at Prince George's Community and Bowie State colleges. "It's not a job that starts at 9 a.m. on Monday or Tuesday and ends at 5 p.m. on Monday or Tuesday."
Similar arguments surfaced in Montgomery council debate as well, where members rejected the recommendation of a citizens' panel that their pay be increased to $48,000.
"You can spend seven days a week, easily, on this job," said Montgomery Council President William E. Hanna Jr., who argued for the raise. "If you think public service is worth something, you ought to be able to stand up and defend it."
Council members Rose Crenca, Scott Fosler, Esther P. Gelman and David Scull voted for the $43,000 salary. Michael L. Gudis, Hanna and Neal Potter voted against it. Crenca, Gudis, Hanna and Potter are all running for reelection in November. Gelman is running for Congress and Scull is a candidate for county executive; Fosler is leaving the council, in part because he can earn more as a private consultant.
The Montgomery council's action also increased the pay of other top elected officials, including the county executive, whose salary will rise from $71,000 to $78,000; the state's attorney, whose salary will rise from $68,000 to $75,000; and the sheriff, from $41,658 to $45,000.
In Prince George's, where all council members are running for reelection, the proposed increase will take effect only if voters approve a charter amendment on the ballot this fall. "We feel that the voters should have a say in it," said council member James Herl. "It would be a judge of our performance."
The Prince George's charter now calls for a minimum salary of $15,000 for council members. Annual increases have come through cost-of-living adjustments pegged to the rising consumer price index.
Council member Floyd E. Wilson, who was stymied last year when he sought a salary increase for both the council and county executive, said that the council is "going the public referendum route" because "they don't have the guts, as a council, to sit here and vote themselves -- well, not themselves -- but the next council, a raise."
Wilson and sponsor Richard Castaldi said that increased salaries could attract more highly qualified candidates to the council and eliminate any possible conflicts arising from holding a second job outside. "This is the kind of employment where you can't touch a job on the outside even if you wanted to," Herl said. Montgomery council member Rose Crenca called the pay raise issue "my quadrennial headache." Crenca argued that pay raises would increase the cost of government.
And Fosler said steady salary increases had all but destroyed the concept of the "citizen legislator." The council salaries, he added, are "not exactly poverty level."
Staff writer R.H. Melton contributed to this report.