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News Maryland Harford County Bel Air

Harford union leaders upset about proposed pay raises for county elected officials

Leaders of Harford County unions say they are not happy to hear the county council wants to raise the salaries of future council members and the county executive by roughly 25 percent.

The new legislation, introduced at Tuesday's Harford County Council meeting, calls for raising the executive's base annual salary to $130,000 and council member salaries to $45,000. The council president would make $48,000.

The current salaries are $105,136 for the county executive, $39,781 for the council president and $36,210, as a result of subsequent annual increases tied to the Consumer Price Index, which since 2010 have been contingent on county government employees receiving annual raises the match or exceed the CPI.

A public hearing on the bill is set for 6 p.m. on Sept. 2 in the County Council chambers in Bel Air.

Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association, said the council is proposing raises for a part-time job at a rate that is roughly $3,000 more than the starting salary for Harford teachers.

He added that council members have aides now who also make about $30,000.

Even though the council and executive salaries are below those in other counties, "I am not sure that really matters. The pay for all our employees does not really compare to any other jurisdictions," he said.

"If you are not taking care of your least employees, how can you give yourself a raise?" Burbey said, adding public safety and public education jobs are also "the most important" jobs.

He questioned why the increases were introduced in August, when the council typically does not make significant decisions.

"I think it's very poor timing," he said. "Why wasn't it done before the primaries? Why wasn't it done in the budget for next year?"

Tim Impallaria, president of the Harford County Deputy Sheriff's Union, also said he is "disappointed" to hear of the proposal.

He said sheriff's office deputies, teachers and others likewise have the lowest salaries among the "big seven" counties the county council cited.

He said it does not make sense for the council and executive to get raises before county employees.

"Everyone else should be taken care of first," Impallaria said, blasting the bill as "bad timing" and noting that some deputies are considering Baltimore City jobs again.

He said he would send council members a letter and plans to speak at the public hearing.

Robert Fletcher, president of the local council of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), said he is not necessarily opposed to the pay increases per se.

"Personally, I am not saying they don't deserve the raise. What I am saying is, we all deserve a raise," he said, explaining he got calls in the evening from employees who were outraged by news of the planned raises.

"People were just livid," Fletcher said. "They are trying to raise families. This is their main job, whereas for the county council, it's their part-time job."

Council 67 of the local AFSCME, which represents Harford, just went through negotiations several months ago and was denied raises, he said.

Fletcher noted his organization has been pushing for raises for six years.

"I have to agree with [Councilman] Chad Shrodes: It's bad timing," Fletcher said. "It's just bad karma."

Fletcher also said he agrees with a comment from Shrodes that the council should have appointed a commission to review salaries of county employees and department heads as well as elected officials.

"Everybody is upset about this," Fletcher said.

Slutzky opposed

The bill is sponsored by Council President Billy Boniface, who will not return to the council, and Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti, who is seeking a House of Delegates seat.

Both said they felt comfortable introducing the bill now because it would not benefit current council members — unless the voters return them to office — or the current executive, who is likewise nearing the end of his term.

The legislation could be in trouble, however, as Councilman Dick Slutzky said in a statement Thursday he plans to vote against the raise.

Slutzky is running for council president in November.

"I understand the rationale that Harford County Government salaries need to be competitive with other similar jurisdictions and that the salary adjustments cannot be implemented by a sitting council, resulting in no possible increases for the next for years," Slutzky wrote in the statement. 

"However, my priority is to focus attention on the county's human capital and work with the new administration to seek and evaluate every possible opportunity to improve the salaries and working conditions for all county employees," he said.

"Despite the reasonable justification stated above, because of the inability of county government to provide salary step and cost of living increases to county teachers, employees of the Sheriff's Office and other county employees I will be opposed to this legislation when it comes up for a vote," Slutzky wrote.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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