Double-digit pay raises for Howard County's executive, council under consideration

Kate Magill
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

A pay increase of more than 20 percent for Howard County’s top elected executive and five County Council members has been proposed and is being reviewed by the council.

If the raises are approved, Howard County would offer the top salary in the state for the county executive, at $226,000, according to data from a state association of county governments. The salary for council members, whose jobs are considered part-time, would increase to $80,000 a year from $64,560.

The increases, which would take effect in December after November elections, were recommended by a Compensation Review Commission, which released a report in November detailing why the salary increases were necessary. Reasons included to keep pace with inflation, the high cost of living in Howard County, the “intensive time demands” of the jobs and to remain comparable to executive and council salaries in nearby counties.

The commission meets every four years to review the county’s budget, history, demographics and compare that data to comparable jurisdictions in the region.

Commission Chairman Pravin Ponnuri said there was “no debate” over whether the salaries needed to be increased to be better in line with surrounding counties, but that commission members disagreed over how much the salaries should change.

Ponnuri said he wanted to raise the council members’ salaries to $88,000 given the hours they put into the job; he suggested raising the executive’s salary to $205,000 from about $184,000. However he said the commission voted to increase both sets of salaries by the same percentage.

The commission reviewed written comments from council members and County Executive Allan Kittleman, a Republican who is running for a second term.

Democratic Councilman Jon Weinstein and Kittleman would receive the higher salaries if they are approved and both win re-election bids. Four council members are leaving office because of term limits.

In addition to their salaries, council members are also entitled to retirement and health-care benefits, but not paid vacation time. The county executive is offered full benefits and a county-provided car, but no driver or security detail, according to spokeswoman Deidre McCabe. The council’s chairman also receives an additional $3,500 annually and all council members get a $150 monthly allowance for cellphone usage.

In their comments to the review commission, all five council members emphasized increased workloads. Democrats Jen Terrasa and Calvin Ball, who is now running for county executive, stated the need to increase the pay to reflect the additional workload.

The commission found that council members work a range of 29 to 70 hours each week.

The position is “absolutely not a part-time job when done well,” Terrasa said, emphasizing the need for higher pay to help cover expenses associated with the position, such as child-care needed outside normal daytime working hours.

“In order to attract a widest variety of candidates to run for the council, who possess the skills, abilities, and experience needed to do the job well, the compensation should be in line with professional positions in Howard County,” Terrasa said. “Moreover, increasing the pay will allow for people of different socioeconomic backgrounds to be on the council. I believe we all benefit from having diversity on council including economic diversity.”

Howard County’s median household income in 2016 was nearly $114,000, more than double the national level, and the per capita income approached $50,000 a year, according to Census Bureau data.

Howard County Citizens’ Association President Stu Kohn said he plans to testify in support of raising the council salaries at a public hearing next week, but that he wants to see an additional change: to make the council positions full time.

In his interview with the commission, Kittleman, who served on the County Council from 1998 to 2004, emphasized the importance of putting in extra hours on the job to spend time in the community; the commission’s report stated that the county executive’s average work week exceeds 60 hours.

“County Council folks should have jobs outside and not use their County Council job as their main source of income, because I think that causes problems,” Kittleman told the commission. “So I would urge you strongly not to increase anybody’s salaries. I think we’re all doing fine.”

The council will hear public testimony on the bills at its Jan. 16 session, and could vote on the bills as early as Feb. 5.

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