Charlie Feaga, the Howard County Council's most consistent fiscal conservative, showed again that being a minority of one doesn't bother the western county Republican one bit.
The council voted, 4-1, Monday night for a major pay raise for the next crop of elected officials, raising council pay nearly 45 percent to $49,000 and the executive's pay 8 percent to $147,000.
Feaga, known for speaking his mind regardless of circumstances - a decade ago he suggested letting a house burn a bit longer if life and limb weren't at risk to save taxpayers' money - stood up for a smaller pay raise.
"I hope we're not coming to a time in our county that people will be looking at salary before running for political office," Feaga said, adding that he never did that in his 13-year council career. He denounced the council increase in particular as too much, and also criticized annual cost-of-living increases that council members and the next executive would get, based on the federal consumer price index.
"The percentage increases are considerably larger than they appear," he said, because of the annual add-on.
"It's tougher to say 'no' to [county employees pay raises] in a tough year if you're getting a raise," he said about future council members.
He went on to suggest that perhaps the citizens serving on the volunteer Compensation Review Commission that recommended the $49,000 salary make too much money themselves. "Maybe they're used to too much money," said the farmer-politician.
Feaga may not always be tactful, but he is not afraid to stand up for his beliefs, said former two-term Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, also a Republican.
"He has principles that he believes in. The principle is stronger than being with the majority," said Ecker, who served with Feaga from 1991 through 1998.
Instead of raising council members' pay from $33,800 to $49,000 next term, Feaga suggested a $42,000 salary in an amendment he conceded had no co-sponsors and likely would fail.
"That's higher than I really wanted to go," he said about the higher figure. His amendment was voted down, 4-1.
Council Chairman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican running for county executive, took pains to point out to viewers of the cable television broadcast of the council meeting that the raises are for officials elected in November, not the current members.
Although the council raise "appears to be a large increase," Merdon said, observers should keep in mind that the council went without any pay increase in 2002 in sympathy with county employees who were denied pay raises during the recession.
Merdon thanked the commission members for doing "extensive research" and for time spent interviewing county officials and compiling their report.
Councilman David A. Rakes, an east Columbia Democrat who is the only one of the five council members considering a re-election run this year, echoed that, adding "I feel pretty comfortable" with the commission's recommendations.
Thomas Price III, the only one of the seven commission members who attended the council meeting, laughed when asked if he makes too much money.
"I'll have to talk to Charlie about that," he chuckled.
Feaga's penchant for cost-cutting came out in one other way Monday night. He conceived a bill introduced at the lightly attended session that would lower the county's assessment cap from 5 percent to 4 percent in July 2007. That would more tightly limit the taxable value of homes, slightly cutting property tax bills for residents. Feaga was not alone in that effort though, drawing co-sponsors Merdon and Rakes - a council majority.