Aberdeen council sends raise controversy to committee

Aberdeen's city council wants a committee to study what the salaries of future mayors and council members should be.

The council voted Monday to create a seven-member group that will spend the summer deciding how much money council members and the mayor should earn.

Councilwoman Ruth Elliott was alone in voting against the committee approach, explaining she views it more as a compensation by the taxpayers.

Elliott also said she feels it is a public service, if someone wants to be on the council, and questioned why the proposed increase was not set to go in effect by 2015 and would only move forward for 2017, as the legislation was written.

"That's transparency," she said regarding the need to put the increase in effect for 2015. She said she had asked for the bill to be tabled.

The proposal to raise the mayor's salary by 140 percent and council member salaries by 60 percent drew citizen outrage at a public hearing last month.

On Monday, most of the council members again said raising the mayor's salary from $10,000 to $24,000, and the council salaries from $7,500 to $12,000, is necessary because the positions' workloads have increased, making it harder to attract qualified people.

Councilman Bruce Garner noted the council's compensation has actually fallen, and he has gotten plenty of e-mails from people encouraging the raises.

"Competition is always good," Garner said. "We need to get, I feel, more of the professional people... with business backgrounds that have worked in management companies. This city is a large company, it's a big business."

Garner said the position is not a public service in the sense that being a Boy Scout leader or rec council baseball coach is.

"This city is going forward and it's got to have young people in here to go with it," he said.

Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck agreed that she has had "tons" of calls and e-mails supporting the salary increase bill that was introduced.

"Unfortunately, only the negative has been publicized," Landbeck continued, explaining the council is trying to do what its residents want. "We are turning this over to the people; it's that simple."

Landbeck said she is concerned that if nothing is done about the wages, "we are further going to narrow the field" of possible candidates.

She agreed with Elliott that "degrees and education don't make good council people."

"She [Elliott] is totally right, but because of that, we need to increase the salary," Landbeck said. "This job has evolved so that only people who have a tremendous amount of time available to them and are very comfortable in their assets can sit up here, and that is very discriminating."

While many people might say the job is a public service, Landbeck disagreed.

"This is not public service. I know what public service feels like," she said.

Projects like the transit-oriented development study take "a load" of time to research, she said.

"We don't want to give away the farm again," Landbeck said. "We need people who can afford to give the time because they are compensated for it, not they can afford to do it because they are retired and have a nice income."

Ten Aberdeen residents spoke out against the salary increases during the public hearing on the legislation last month.

The mayor said at the time 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 paid $38,500.

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