County officials say raises for 3,800 Anne Arundel County employees will be delayed at least a month because the County Council amended a personnel bill Wednesday night, angering County Executive Janet S. Owens.
"I'm very discouraged by what this means for our families," Owens, a Democrat, said in a statement yesterday. "With tuition and back-to-school needs just around the corner, this action hurts our employees when their budgets are the tightest."
The amendment's sponsor, Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, said the bill had to be changed because the Owens administration had added a provision that essentially penalized unionized employees who had won promotions.
Under that provision, employees who were promoted would have had to wait up to a year to receive their annual merit raises.
"We tried to amend the bill to protect the workers of the county," said Samorajczyk, an Annapolis Democrat.
The spat is the latest between Owens and Samorajczyk, a frequent critic of the administration. Although the amendment passed by a 4-2 vote, Owens named only Samorajczyk in her statement.
If the bill had passed unmodified Wednesday, the raises would have taken effect yesterday and would have appeared in employees' paychecks at the end of the month. All nonunion employees will get increases of 2 percent this fiscal year. Unions negotiated raises ranging from 2 percent to 7 percent.
Because the bill was amended, the council cannot pass it until Aug. 7 at the earliest. That means raises will not show up in checks until late August, said county personnel officer Randall Schultz.
Schultz said employees will not lose money but will be paid retroactively for the one-month gap. The retroactive pay might not show up until early winter, Owens said, because those increases must be hand-computed and entered into the payroll system.
In addition, Owens said, the county's conversion to a new payroll system in October will cause delays.
Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat who voted for the amendment, noted that the county in the past has begun paying out raises before the personnel bill took effect.
She said she does not understand why this amendment should cause a delay.
"What's the big deal?" she said.
In any event, Samorajczyk's amendment was not the only one adopted by the council. Two technical changes introduced by Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., a Millersville Democrat, also passed.
Change seen as key
Beidle said Samorajczyk's change was an important one.
"It's a big issue about how raises and promotions and demotions are handled," she said. "Employees will realize in the long run this can mean thousands of dollars to them. I think it's more important to look at the long term than the short term."
The provision had been raised as an issue by the county firefighters union. Keith Wright, newly elected union president, said of his 450 members, "They can wait a few more pays to get paid knowing this issue is resolved."
The practice of delaying merit raises to employees who are promoted is not new. The language deleted by the council, Schultz said, "clarified what the county has already been practicing."
Wait can be long
Usually, an eligible employee receives a merit raise July 1, but when an employee is promoted, the date of promotion becomes the time when merit raises go into effect, Wright said. Someone who is promoted June 1 would have to wait until the following June, he said.
In April, an arbitrator issued a decision, based on the county code, that cast doubt on the practice of delaying merit raises. Schultz noted that the arbitrator called the practice "ambiguous," not inappropriate. But the arbitrator also said certain employees were entitled to back pay.
Appeal is likely
Schultz said the county will decide within a few days whether to appeal the arbitrator's finding but that an appeal is likely. He said the county has not been able to compute how much back pay might be owed or to which employees.
Schultz told the council Wednesday that the dispute could be dealt with separately so that the overall personnel bill would not be held up. Council members said the county would have little incentive to negotiate on that point if the provision became law.