Two members of the Harford County Council will introduce bills Tuesday night to give pay increases to the next county executive and future county council members amounting to about 25 percent from current levels starting next summer.
At least one council member, however, says the timing is bad, and Harford County Executive David Craig is threatening to veto the raises.
The legislation would set the county executive's base annual salary at $130,000. The existing base salary, set in 2004, is $90,000; however, subsequent annual increases tied to the Consumer Price Index have moved the executive's current salary to $105,136.
The base salaries for a county council member would increase from $31,000 to $45,000, while the base salary for the council president, who is elected separately, would increase from $34,000 to $48,000. Council members are considered part-time employees.
As has been the case with the county executive, council salaries have increased in some years based on CPI increases and are $36,210 for a council member and $39,718 for the council president, according to the county's human resources department.
In 2010, legislation began basing the annual CPI raises for the elected officials on whether county government employees received a commensurate raise in a given year, which has essentially frozen the salaries except for the 2012-13 fiscal year when all county government employees received a 4 percent cost of living adjustment.
Bills 14-27 and 14-28, to increase the compensation of the county council and county executive, respectively, are sponsored by Council President Billy Boniface and Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti. Both will be subject to public hearings on Sept. 2.
If approved by the council, the salaries would go into effect July 1, 2015. By law, five of the seven council members must approve the bills for them to take effect.
Studied for several years
During a meeting with Aegis staff Tuesday morning, Boniface and Lisanti said they have been discussing the need for pay increases for the elected officials since their last term and explained they want to make the elected officials salaries closer to those of other counties, noting that Harford's are the lowest among the seven largest counties in the state by population.
"It's a competitive market out there and we want to attract the brightest," Lisanti said, noting it is difficult for someone to work a full-time job and serve on the council.
"It means you work a 100-hour week many times," she said. "It is very, very difficult for a single-income person to be a full-time council member."
Boniface said he roughly based the new council salaries on what state legislators would be making starting next year ($50,000), explaining he doesn't want people who might be considering running for either county council or the Maryland General Assembly to be turned away from the former because of the salary.
Most other area counties are considering or have recently approved similar increases for their elected officials, according to a chart provided by the council members, and once the dust settles, Harford's salaries would still be at the lower end, even with the raises being proposed.
Boniface said he set the proposed salary for the county executive in the middle range of what the county's department heads are paid, between $105,000 and $165,000. He said he thinks $130,000 is still too low, but was concerned that a higher amount might have trouble passing.
"You have the chief executive of a billion dollar corporation [the county executive] making considerably less than the people he his hiring," he said. "That doesn't happen in private industry."
Neither Boniface, a Republican, nor Lisanti, a Democrat, will be returning to the council. Boniface didn't seek re-election, while Lisanti is seeking a House of Delegates seat. Both will have served eight years when their terms end in December.
Because they knew they wouldn't be coming back, they said felt comfortable addressing the issue, and both said they hope it sends a message that the next council and executive consider raising the salaries of county employees, sheriff's deputies and teachers, all of whom have essentially seen their salaries frozen the past six years.
"Our hope is to set a tone for the next administration and council to start addressing, on a regular basis, investing in our workforce," Boniface said.
Though Boniface said he expects the raise legislation will be controversial, he defended his thinking about it, saying the current county administration under Craig "has been about buying and building, and we need to invest in the workforce, in the ones actually keeping the engine running."