Under pressure from state politicians and the public, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners reversed yesterday a controversial decision -- made in a private meeting last week -- to increase their daily allowance by 650 percent.
To the end, the two commissioners who had voted for the increase, Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates, defended their action.
"We're on solid legal ground," said Yates, who leaves office Monday. "I don't understand why we have to change our decision."
Dell called the daily allowance a "pittance" and said, "We must find a way to adequately compensate the commissioners."
Dell, who was re-elected to a third term in November and would benefit from any increase, said, "It doesn't sound like we're very prestigious when our secretaries make more than we do and we're running the county."
The board ordered that a new allowance be set based on an analysis of the costs incurred by the commissioners in the performance of their official duties. It is unclear how long it will take to complete the analysis, which is being conducted by the county Department of Management and Budget.
Dell made the motion yesterday calling for the analysis after County Attorney Laurell Taylor told the board that the daily allowance must be based on expenses incurred on the job. Currently, the daily bonus is added to expenses.
The increase passed by the all-Republican board Nov. 24 would have made the commissioners the highest-paid part-time elected officials in Maryland, an analysis published by The Sun Wednesday found.
The board raised its bonus -- given to commissioners for showing up for work or appearing at an official function -- from $12 a day to $90.
The issue was not on the published agenda for the meeting at which the raise was approved.
Carroll is the only county in the state that offers its part-time elected officials a daily payment in addition to salary, mileage and meal reimbursement, The Sun's analysis found. The increase would have gone into effect Monday, when the new board takes office.
Before yesterday's vote, the commissioners were flooded with calls from Carroll residents and members of the county delegation, who criticized the $78 jump in their daily allowance. Town officials were also concerned by it.
"Everybody's upset, including me," said Manchester Mayor Elmer Lippy, who was a county commissioner with Dell from 1990 to 1994.
Yates and Dell said that with the increase, the commissioners would have made more than their secretaries, but Lippy said it never bothered him that he made less.
"I would say the secretaries work harder than Richard Yates, and to be fair about it, the secretaries work harder than I do," Lippy said.
As mayor of Manchester, Lippy's salary is $1,200 a year. "There should be some element of public service involved," he said.
Dell said the analysis ordered yesterday of costs incurred by the commissioners is the only practical way to determine how much board members should be compensated beyond their annual salaries of $32,500.
"We have to be legal," Dell said. "If we can't justify the expenses, I think we're in trouble."
The board's actions of Nov. 24 are being reviewed by the state attorney general's office. Del. Joseph M. Getty, a Manchester Republican, requested the investigation because, he said, the daily bonus is not related to expenses and amounts to a "salary enhancement."
The General Assembly must approve increases in salary, but not in expenses, for commissioner-run counties such as Carroll.
During the board's four-year term, the three commissioners have billed the county for 2,758 working days, for a total in daily bonuses of $33,096. The same number of days at $90 a day would cost the county an additional $215,124.
Steven D. Powell, director of the county's Department of Management and Budget, said the allowance that will be set after the analysis will reflect the commissioners' roles as county executives and legislators.
Powell said they might receive some form of reimbursement -- beyond mileage -- for using their personal vehicles while on county business. The commissioners are given 25 cents a mile to commute to work and to official functions.
During the meeting, Powell said the analysis will look at the compensation of other county officials.
William H. Hyde, superintendent of the Carroll County schools, receives in addition to his $110,000 salary an annual allowance of $6,400 in place of reimbursement for mileage and the cost of a car.
Joseph F. Shields, president of Carroll Community College, is provided with a leased 1997 Buick LeSabre. His salary is $120,000.
Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, who voted against the increase on Nov. 24, also objected to the analysis. He argued that the allowance should be rescinded, not revised, because the new board might have to take action on the analysis' recommendations.
The board is expected to publicly announce the results of the analysis.
Pub Date: 12/04/98