The Columbia Council has hired a Baltimore human resources consulting firm to compare salaries and bonuses of about 35 Columbia Association management positions with those of similar jobs in government, nonprofit organizations and private industry.
Councilwoman Evelyn A. Richardson of Dorsey's Search recommended the personnel study, expected to cost between $25,000 and $28,000, largely in response to charges leveled at budget hearings in recent years that association salaries are too high.
"I don't know if they are or not," said Ms. Richardson, chairwoman of a committee overseeing the William M. Mercer Inc. study. "We felt perhaps the time had come to take another look at it."
Ms. Richardson said her impression is that salaries for association managers are in line with the marketplace.
"For the most part, CA has done a good job deciding on appropriate salaries. We'll find out if that's true," she said.
Alex Hekimian, president of Alliance for a Better Columbia, a citizens group that has criticized the association's spending practices, said the only appropriate comparison would be with governments. The nonprofit association, which has 170 employees, operates the unincorporated city's recreational facilities, community programs and open space at the direction of the elected 10-member Columbia Council.
"I think many residents feel CA spends money extravagantly," Mr.Hekimian said. "If CA was a corporation that didn't depend on citizens' taxes to survive, it could compensate managers as much as the market would bear.
"But they do depend on mandatory taxes. They have a responsibility to economize, to provide pay and benefits comparable to the public sector. . . . It's quasi-government, but government nonetheless."
Council members and association officials say it is difficult to classify the association or compare it with other entities because it performs a variety of public and private functions.
"We're a fairly unique organization," said Pam Mack, the association's director of community relations. "We have many of the same disciplines of a private business, and we have a public nature. We need to be looked at in that regard."
Council Chairwoman Karen Kuecker has described the association as a "strange breed of organization" and a "hybrid."
The association's $30 million annual budget is nearly evenly divided between income from an annual charge of 73 cents per $100 of assessed property value and fees from facility memberships and programs.
The 10-week study, expected to be completed in March, will compare salaries and bonuses for the association's six vice presidents, treasurer and president, whose fiscal 1994 base salaries range from $54,309 to $93,122 and whose bonuses range from $2,500 to $11,175. The president awards bonuses for achieving incentives.
The vice presidents direct divisions responsible for membership facilities, community services, open-space management, finances, community relations and legal matters.
Including bonuses, association President Padraic Kennedy earns $104,297, 30 percent more than Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker's $80,000 salary. Ms. Mack earns $56,809, slightly less than the $59,934 salary of Vicki Cox, the county public information administrator.
Robert Goldman, association director of membership services, earns $95,312; his counterpart, Jeff Bourne, the county director of recreation and parks, makes $66,537. Jeanette Pfotenhauer, association general counsel, earns $59,893 for a 30-hour week; her counterpart, Barbara Cook, the county solicitor, makes $88,969.
The study also will compare salaries of about 30 other management-level association positions, such as computer specialist, assistant division directors, marketing director, club operations director, art center director and golf course superintendent.
Those salaries range from about $25,000 for an Open Space Management division foreman to $69,000 for a club operations director.
The study won't affect personnel expenses for the association's fiscal 1995 budget, which the council will adopt by early March, ++ Ms. Richardson said.
No salary reductions
Salaries won't be reduced for any current managers as a result of the study, which is being conducted primarily to ensure that association managers are "paid fairly and adequately" in comparison with their counterparts in other sectors, Ms. Richardson said.
How the study will be used and whether the council will follow it up with more extensive personnel and compensation comparisons remain to be seen, Ms. Richardson said.
"The only major objective is to look at compensation packages for management staff," she said.
It has been a decade or longer since the association made a similar salary comparison, Ms. Mack said.
Mr. Kennedy said the study is a good idea and could be a useful tool in ensuring that salaries are equitable and in making future decisions.
"It's a smart way to find out what is the marketplace for salaries in different positions and that you're comparable," Mr. Kennedy said. "That's been our philosophy from the beginning."
Ms. Richardson declined to release the consultant's proposal describing the scope of its study, saying the project is a confidential personnel matter and that the council's personnel committee hadn't ironed out details with the consultant.
The study will not include comparisons of benefits or an analysis of worker efficiency.