Rehrmann agrees to give county workers step raise


The county executive has agreed to give all county employees one step raise this year, a marked turn from her earlier stand that wages must be frozen because the county cannot afford raises.

The move came last week after the County Council said it would trim $1.3 million from County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's proposed $188.6 million operating budget and have the money used to give raises to all county employees, including school workers.

The council wanted to use the money to grant all county employees step raises -- raises given to employees for performance or merit following an annual job evaluation. Step raises stop once employees reach the top of the pay scale in the job they hold.

The council has no authority to move the trimmed money into payroll expenses.

On Tuesday, Rehrmann sent over amendments to her proposed budget that would shift money the council trimmed in her budget to pay for one step raise for all county employees who qualify.

James M. Jewell, the county treasurer, said about half of all county employees would qualify for step increases, if granted. Jewell said the average salary of a county employee is $27,000.

A step increase for an employee making $27,000 would amount to a 3.5 percent raise, or about $36 more for every two-week pay period.

The county teachers union says that the raises the council is proposing aren't good enough. The union is lobbying for two step raises and a 3 percent cost of living raise for its members. The union argues that the additional step increase is needed to ** make up for the lack of raises during the current fiscal year.

The county executive froze wages for all county employees this year and proposed to do so again in the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

"If we only get step raises this year, we're still one step behind. And 50 percent of our teachers won't get anything because they're too far up the pay scale," said Christine Haggett, president of the Harford County Education Association, which represents about 1,500 teachers.

Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson said he supports the union's argument.

"I don't think we've even come close to cutting the fat. The administration will cry and say how terrible it is, but that's their job," said Wilson. "It's their job to say every penny is essential, and it's our job to say 'baloney.' "

At a budget work session Monday to discuss the proposed cuts, Larry Klimovitz, director of administration, unsuccessfully tried to persuade council members that giving raises is unwise.

"We suggested it may be more prudent to wait until the economic recovery is sustained and concrete," said Klimovitz in a follow-up interview Wednesday. "But if it's a given we're going to do raises, there's four areas on which those hinge: revised income tax receipt projections; a fee bill which was introduced last night; county department savings; and certain council budget cuts. We need all four of those things to happen in order to afford the raises."

The budget cuts council members proposed at their Tuesday meeting include:

* $385,000 to be used to improve Harford Glen, the county's outdoor education center.

* $440,518 for the Solid Waste Fund.

* $440,518 from pay-as-you-go money to be spent as part of the Solid Waste Fund.

* $64,000 from the recycling budget for commercial printing

* $31,600 for office space and management services from the Department of Public Works' Solid Waste Enterprise Fund.

* $5,000 from the county's Department of Economic Development.

The council must enact a budget by May 31. It is scheduled to vote on the amendments May 26 at its regular 8 p.m. session.

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