Aberdeen Salary Task Force members question if money buys quality

Members of Aberdeen's Salary Task Force didn't exactly get what they had requested for their meeting Monday – salaries for elected officials in comparable municipalities.

And, regardless of how much pay may in fact be justified for the offices of mayor and city council members, some task force members were quick to point out that more money won't necessarily buy more quality in the people who run for those offices.

To start the task force's second meeting, held in the second floor conference room of city hall, City Manager Doug Miller gave packets to each member of the task force containing information that the commission requested at last week's meeting. The packets included historical data for previous councils' salaries as well as the activities current council members participate in, such as various committees and boards.

Miller had trouble, however, providing salary information for comparable municipalities in Maryland, citing the services that the city provides in addition to the presence of Ripken Stadium and Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"In Maryland, it's hard to compare apples to apples," Miller said, noting that comparable cities like Greenbelt might have similar population sizes, but don't provide services like water and sewer.

Commission member Lance Hersh sought to determine what kind of candidates the city is seeking to attract for the offices of mayor and council, saying that the current salary structure does not reflect the time commitment required and excludes small business owners, among others.

"This is a job that takes dedication, vision, it takes a lot more than just going to a meeting," Hersh said. "And I think what we've had for the last three or four candidates; we've had good mayors."

"What I'm basically saying is I don't think it's fair for us as citizens to sit and here and eliminate 50 or 60 or 70 percent of this population because of the requirements that this job presents itself by the hours," Hersh added.

Ed Budnick had a different perspective.

"I'll say that I don't think it's fair for us to sit here and open it up to everyone in the world because of a huge salary increase," Budnick said. "I just don't think you buy professionalism in the city."

Mark Schlottman said that a higher salary doesn't guarantee quality in his view, either.

"I don't think in an elected position, paying people more guarantees you smarter people," Schlottman said, adding that he had worked on a number of political campaigns and had never heard a single candidate discuss their own pay.

Miller did not provide data concerning salary changes for all of the other city employees, which the task force had also requested, but said he would do so for the next meeting.

After Miller left to let the members talk among themselves, Budnick said the salary information regarding all city employees is vital for him to make any sort of decision on a salary increase for the mayor and council.

"I am not going to sit here and give the mayor a 400 percent raise when everybody that works in this city has had 7 percent over the last 24 years," Budnick said, adding that he was giving an arbitrary number for city employee raises since he didn't have actual data.

"I have to have all of this information lined up for me. That's how I do business," Budnick added. "I have to understand where we were here and where we are now, and where everybody in this system has been affected, either positively or negatively."

The commission also agreed to ask Miller for the council's criteria for the original ordinance proposing that the mayor's salary be raised from $10,000 per year to $24,000, and council members' salaries from $7,500 per year to $12,000.

Although Miler did not furnish comparable municipal elected officials salaries for Monday's meeting, the salaries of the elected officials in Harford County's other two municipalities are already significantly less than those in Aberdeen.

The mayor of Havre de Grace earns $7,800 annually and city council members get $5,200. In Bel Air, members of the Board of Town Commissioners are paid $4,800 annually, with the board chairman — who holds the ceremonial title of mayor — receiving $6,000 annually.

Before the meeting came to a close, the members voted to appoint Schlottman as their chairman and agreed to meet next Monday, July 15, at 6 p.m. Former council president Mike Hiob and his wife, Barb, attended the meeting.

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