Baltimore police officers would get the highest pay raise in department history - 33 percent for top veterans - under a tentative agreement announced yesterday that would make the city's pay competitive with that of surrounding county departments.
The three-year deal, which would cost Baltimore taxpayers $30 million, would raise the starting salary for patrol officers to $35,784 by July 2002. The across-the-board boost is an effort to stem the flow of city officers to better-paying county departments, a trend that has left Baltimore with fewer and less-experienced officers.
"The message I hope this sends to all those men and women is that the people of this city respect the fact that the police officers are professionals," Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday.
"And we are going to, as a people, demand more accountability and a much higher level of performance."
The agreement still must be ratified by the 3,000-member Baltimore police union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3, and the city Finance Department must find a way to accommodate the increase in the cash-strapped city's budget.
"That's the $30 million question," said acting Budget Director Henry Raymond, whose office is projecting deficits in the next three fiscal years.
O'Malley, who has made raising police salaries a top first-year priority, said the raises would help make the city's police force better at fighting crime, which in turn would attract new taxpaying residents and businesses to help offset the cost.
"We pay for this and any raises for other city employees down the road by making this the largest, safest city in America," O'Malley said.
Ecstatic police union officials spent most of their day notifying members.
"The mayor kept his promise to the police officers, as well as the public," said Officer Gary L. McLhinney, president of FOP Lodge No. 3. "None of us got into this business for the money, but when you see other jurisdictions making more, it really becomes a matter of pride."
A pay survey of police departments last year found that Baltimore ranked 13th out of 17 jurisdictions statewide. Nationally, the city police department's pay ranked 262nd of 305 cities studied.
The agreement calls for a 7 percent increase the first year, 8 percent in the second year and 9 percent in the final year. In addition, officers with more than six years of service would receive an extra 1 percent raise each year.
That means starting salaries for first-year officers would rise 26 percent, from $28,404 to $35,784, and the pay for the most veteran lieutenants would jump 33 percent, from $56,851 to $76,788, over three years. If ratified, the starting salary for officers would increase immediately to $31,000 a year.
In return, the union agreed to forefeit five unexcused absence days and pay 10 percent of health insurance premiums.
The double-digit pay increases could cause trouble for O'Malley in negotiations with 12,000 city firefighters, public works employees and clerical workers, who began working Saturday without contracts.
Over the past decade of lean budget years, all five of the unions representing city employees have traditionally gained equal percentage pay raises.
Union officials representing 5,000 public works employees said yesterday that city workers without contracts will expect a pay bump similar to the one offered the police.
"It makes the bar a little higher for what we're going to settle for," said Glennard S. Middleton Sr., president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 67. "We're public employees as well."
The city recently filed an appeal with the state Court of Special Appeals to oppose a clause in city firefighters' contracts that the percent of police and fire pay raises remain equal.
Earlier this year, the city offered 2 percent to the 1,700 firefighters, who then won a 3 percent increase in a later arbitration.
Fire union officials said yesterday that they will continue fighting in court to gain percentage increases similar to police officers'.
"We don't begrudge the police anything," said Rick Schluderberg, vice president of Baltimore Firefighters Association Local 734. "They deserve everything they get."
The Baltimore Homeowners Coalition, the city's most vocal spending critic, supported the pay raise, saying that fighting crime should be the city's top priority
"The city's police department needs to be competitive with surrounding jurisdictions," BHC President Karen Footner said. "It is our hope that the mayor can achieve efficiencies in other areas to absorb the police salary increases."
O'Malley is awaiting reports from downtown business leaders studying city government to recommend ways to cut spending.