The Calvert Board of County Commissioners voted Tuesday to restore a salary increase for sheriff's deputies that it had decided to rescind last month.
At a standing-room-only meeting filled with employees of the Calvert Sheriff's Office and their families, the board voted 4 to 1 to give the deputies the pay increase that had been approved during the budget process this spring.
The board had decided to rescind the raises two weeks ago after several commissioners said they had not understood that the deputies' salary increases were larger than those given to most other county employees.
The raises affect a dozen deputies who received promotions July 1.
Although a majority of the commissioners said they support equal salary scales for sheriff's employees and other county workers, on Tuesday they said it would be inappropriate to revoke a salary increase that the deputies believed they would receive.
"We can't hurt 12 employees because there's confusion," said Commissioner Wilson H. Parran (D-At Large).
The 60-person crowd seemed relieved at the board's decision. Cpl. Mike Bomgardner, who gripped his wife's hands as they watched the debate, said rescinding the pay raise would have cost him several thousand dollars a year.
"The commissioners did what they should have done," he said. "But it never should have come to this."
The issue arose after County Administrator James J. Allman informed the commissioners in a June 24 e-mail that the pay raises approved for 12 deputies receiving promotions were not based on the county's normal promotion policy.
The amount approved for the deputies' salary increases was $53,441, according to a July 6 memo from Paula Gray, the county's personnel manager. The raises would have cost $35,036 if calculated under the county's regular promotion policy.
Commissioners President David F. Hale (R-Owings) said county payroll staff members were instructed to give the smaller pay increases to the deputies after the commissioners -- who were on a two-week break from their regular meeting schedule -- were informally polled on their positions.
County Attorney Emanuel Demedis told the board that it could rescind the pay increase during the break and then formally approve the decision during its next session, Hale said.
But the move to scale back the increase without input from the public or the sheriff's office provoked an outcry from the police union and Commissioner Susan Shaw (R-Huntingtown), who said the decision smacked of backroom dealings.
"A crisis was created," she said. "I just really do not like the way this has been handled."
Part of the debate about the raises stems from a disagreement over whether the increases should be linked to those for the Maryland State Police. In July 1999, the commissioners granted deputies pay parity with the state police. But since then, sheriff's employees often have been granted the same pay raise as county employees, even in years when state police received no raise.
"This is a hybrid that makes very little sense," Shaw said.
Shaw said she agreed with Sheriff Mike Evans (R) that county workers and sheriff's employees should receive different pay increases. "Law enforcement is a difficult job," Evans said.
Three of the commissioners -- Parran, Gerald W. Clark (R-Lusby) and Linda L. Kelley (R-At Large) -- said it was important to treat all employees the same.
"I'm just a stickler for consistency," Parran said. "When it comes to pay increases . . . to me, an employee is an employee."
At first, none of the commissioners seconded a motion by Shaw to give the 12 deputies the originally approved pay raises.
But after a few moments, Clark said he did not want to penalize the deputies because of his confusion over the pay increases and seconded the proposal.
"I'm not ashamed to admit that I misunderstood," he said. "I voted for that budget, and I missed that."
Kelley cast the only dissenting vote, noting that she was being consistent with her vote against the pay raise during the original budgeting process. She said the sheriff's employees should have their pay increases pegged to those of the state police or to county employees, not both.
"I think we can't be moving back and forth between state and county depending on what's opportune at the time," she said.
Terry Shannon, the county's director of finance and budget, said the larger pay increase would be made retroactive to July 1, the start of the fiscal year.
The commissioners also asked county staff members to draw up new pay scales for the sheriff's office and regular county employees and submit the proposals in August or September.