Aberdeen residents decry mayor, council raises

With Aberdeen's city employees having to, in Mayor Michael Bennett's words, do "more with less" as the city deals with lean budgets and many city residents having to deal with deal with a difficult economy, the idea of a raise for the mayor and the city council members did not sit well with several residents who decried the raises during Monday's council meeting.

"All-in-all our employees have been doing more with less," the mayor said in his State of the City Address Monday. "We have had no choice as we have been confined by our budget difficulties. But I am proud to say that our people have become innovative and service delivery in these difficult times was not affected."

Ordinance 13-O-05, if passed, would increase the mayor's salary from $10,000 a year to $24,000 – an increase of 140 percent – and the four council members' salaries from $7,500 to $12,000, an increase of 60 percent.

The ordinance was introduced before the council in late April and was on the agenda for adoption during Monday's council meeting, but Bennett said during the public comments portion of the meeting that the measure would be discussed further during the council's work session on June 10.

Ten Aberdeen residents spoke against the salary increases. Though most of the speakers thanked the city leaders for their efforts on behalf of the community, especially during the BRAC process of recent years, they said such large increases are too much, especially when people in many other jobs see small annual raises or have had no increases for several years.

"I usually don't come to these meetings and I had to come to express that I was kind of shocked that people get 140 percent [increase]," Deborah Shirley said.

Shirley, a government employee, said she and her co-workers typically get a raise of 3.1 percent.

"I feel that everybody on the council is doing a wonderful job...140 percent, I was just a little shocked and I feel that a smaller raise is more sufficient," she added.

Resident Beverly Norton did not mince words.

"I guess in these austere times the only word I could think of would be unseemly," she said.

Former council president Michael Hiob, who lost to Bennett in the 2009 mayoral election, said he had traveled through the city talking to people about the proposed raises.

"The vast majority of folks had no idea, had no idea, this was going to take place," Hiob said. "The folks that I have spoken to, 100 percent, they are against it."

Three people said they support the salary increase.

"I really believe, in my heart, 16 years is too long to work for the same amount of money," Bernard Backus said.

Pastor Calvin Wilson, who delivered the opening prayer at Monday's council meeting, said the proposed percentage increases are "a lot for anyone to swallow," but he was in favor of giving the mayor and council some increase, citing the improvements which had taken place as a result of BRAC.

"This city gained a lot, so I think that allows us the opportunity to reward you all for the work you've done because truly, when you look at Aberdeen, you look back 15, 20 years ago its not the same Aberdeen so that tells me you've done something; you've done something well," Wilson said.

The mayor and council members defended the salary increases, noting the hours they must put in to make informed decisions on major projects that often involve state agencies.

They also thanked the residents for voicing their opinions.

"You don't come into this job wanting to be a rich person that's not going to happen, but certainly the workman is worth his wages," Bennett said.

Councilwoman Sandy Landbeck said council members earn the equivalent of $7 per hour based on their salaries and the hours they put in, working on issues such as whether to annex property and how to handle "transit-oriented development" coming in.

"You really do not understand the hours we put in or the issues that we are dealing with and being paid $7 an hour," she said. "Look on your scale and see who makes $7 an hour; it's not the people who are making these kinds of decisions."

The mayor said the salaries for his position and for the council members have not been increased in 16 years. Even without the proposed raises, however, Aberdeen's elected officials are still paid better than their counterparts in the county's other two municipalities, Havre de Grace and Bel Air.

The mayor of Havre de Grace is paid $7,800 a year, while a city council member receives $5,200 annually. In Bel Air, a town commissioner receives $4,800 annually and the town board chairman, who has ceremonial duties of a mayor, receives $6,000. As with Aberdeen's, the elected positions in Havre de Grace and Bel Air are part-time jobs.

Members of the Harford County Council, who also serve as part-time officials, receive about $35,000 annually, with the council president being paid $38,500. Their salaries are adjusted annually for inflation.

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