Harford County Councilman Jim McMahan, who is running for re-election, says he supports bills to raise the salaries of the next county executive and county council, giving the measures a minimum of three prospective favorable votes among the seven member council.
"As of now, I plan to support both bills," McMahan explained in an email Wednesday night. "The adjustment for the council and county executive is as necessary as a raise for the rest of the county employees."
McMahan, a Republican running for his third term representing the Bel Air area District C, said the county council has limited options when it comes to making adjustments the county government's elected offices.
"There is only one chance every four years to adjust the council's remuneration to assure we can attract competent individuals who are willing to give the amount of time necessary to perform the job," he noted.
He also said the notion that council members are supposed to be part-time public officials is incorrect. "Nowhere in the charter will anyone find the words 'part-time' job when referring to a council position," he said.
McMahan also reiterated a prior statement about if the raise bills are approved and take effect next July as proposed.
"I also have faith that the new administration is interested in taking care of county employees," he wrote. "I will not take any of the adjustment unless employee adjustments are approved as well. If only the council adjustment passes, I will donate my net increase to charitable causes until employees are approved."
"In the next election cycle we need to make sure we attract well qualified candidates and this action will help in doing that," McMahan added. "As I see it, this is the public's investment in their next council."
Councilman Joe Woods was away and not had a chance to review the bills, but said Thursday he might be willing to support the proposal if the rationale includes a broader plan to give other raises as well.
"It's always, who is going to be first," Woods said about pay raises. He said he met with Ryan Burbey, of the Harford County Education Association teachers union Thursday morning, to discuss the bill.
Woods, who also is running for re-election but is unopposed, added that he would not support the bills if the only rationale is to make council and executive salaries compatible with others around the state.
Opponents weigh in
At least two candidates running against council incumbents said they are against the raise proposal, including McMahan's opponent, Gina Kazimir.
"I do not support it," the Bel Air resident said, explaining the council and administration need to focus on funding teachers, deputies and other employees, who she said have essentially had their salaries cut by not receiving raises for years.
"I think it's, frankly, unconscionable" to consider raising council salaries, she said.
Kazimir added that despite some council members' claims, "it is a part-time job and there should be an element of public service in it."
"I don't want a career politician," she said.
Kazimir said she is sure McMahan's constituents are unhappy to hear he would support the bills.
"I was very disappointed to hear that," she said about McMahan's comments.
Mike Perrone, a Joppa resident, who is challenging for Councilman Dion Guthrie's seat in District A, said he was surprised to hear the council even proposed the raises.
"The fact that this would even come up struck me as odd timing," he said.
"I do not think council members or the county executive should get raises. I don't think they should get any kind of special treatment," Perrone said.
Perrone, a Republican, said he would also not support raises for those positions in the future, explaining he thinks their automatic increases, tied to the Consumer Price Index, are enough.
"You don't need to ever actually get a raise because inflation will take care of that," Perrone said.
Sponsors defend bills
Bills were introduced last week to increase the salaries for the county executive, county council president and six district council members by between 20 and 25 percent. The legislation will have a public hearing on Sept. 2, beginning at 6 p.m. in the council's chamber at 212 S. Bond St. in Bel Air.
Five of seven council votes are required to pass the legislation by a veto-proof margin. The bill would set the county executive's base salary at $130,000 a year, up from the current $105,136; the council president's at $48,000, up from $39,721; and a council member's at $45,000, up from $36,210. Regardless of whether the legislation passes, those positions would still be eligible for annual raises tied to the Consumer Price Index.
The raises would not apply to the sitting council or to County Executive David Craig. Although Craig is leaving office when his term ends in December, he has said he will veto both raise bills. Five council votes are also required to override a veto.
Council President Billy Boniface and Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti, who are co-sponsoring both bills, said earlier this week they continue to support them, despite initial negative reaction from county government employees and local school employees, who have seen few increases in their paychecks in recent years under the current executive and county council.
Neither Boniface nor Lisanti is returning to the council. Boniface, a Republican, is not seeking re-election. Lisanti, a Democrat, is running for the House of Delegates.
Councilmen Chad Shrodes and Guthrie both say they haven't decided how they will vote on the bills. Like Woods, Shrodes, a Republican, does not have a general election opponent.
Councilman Dick Slutzky, a Republican, is running for council president to succeed Boniface. He has issued a statement saying he won't vote in favor of the legislation.
Slutzky's opponent, Democrat Jim Thornton, could not be reached for comment.
During its current term that began in December 2010, the county council has hired a full-time lawyer, personal aides for each of the seven council members and two full-time auditors, positions that did not exist when the term began. It also increased the salary of its administrator, a move that drew criticism and forced a reduction in the size of the increase.
All those moves were designed to have a more professional operation, according to Boniface, who said they have produced the desired results. The council members' aides are paid $30,000 annually.
Neither of the bills pending to raise the elected officials salaries will be impacted by the existing law that provides the county executive and council members raises equal to annual increases in the Consumer Price Index, provided county classified workers receive a commensurate annual increase.
The last CPI raises were in the 2012-13 budget year, when Craig, with the council's blessing, provided county employees with a 4 percent cost of living raise that was approved in November 2012 and made retroactive to July 1, 2012.
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Aegis staff member Allan Vought contributed to this article.