Arbitrator calls for police raises in Baltimore County

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County police officers with more than nine years of experience should receive 4 percent pay raises next year, according to an arbitrator whose findings were made public yesterday.

As a result of the arbitration, the raises, which will cost about $4 million, must be included in the budget to be proposed by County Executive James T. Smith Jr. this month.

The step increases for officers with more than nine years of service would make midcareer salaries of county officers more competitive with the midcareer salaries of police officers in other jurisdictions, said Cole B. Weston, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4.

"It's important to stay competitive with the other jurisdictions, all of which are getting cost-of-living raises this year," Weston said. "We were able to prove through an economic argument that the county could pay for this proposal."

County Council members, who can delete from but not add to the county budget, are not bound by the arbitration. County officials say the government cannot afford raises for police or other employees this year.

"The issue is that the county executive has adopted the fiscal approach - just like families - that we must live within our means," said county spokesman Donald I. Mohler.

The county auditor has determined that the county budget should not increase more than 4.56 percent during the next fiscal year, a rate known as the spending affordability guideline.

The arbitrator found that the county can afford to give the raises to officers and said that "the county executive and council [members] retain the ability to make adjustments in the event budget problems arise."

A labor fact-finder concluded last month that the county should give 3 percent raises to county workers represented by two unions, the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees and the Baltimore County Federation of Public Health Nurses. Both unions are seeking nonbinding arbitration to settle their dispute with the county.

None of the six labor groups representing about 8,400 county employees have reached agreements with county officials. Their contracts expire at the end of June.

The FOP, which represents about 1,800 officers, won the right to binding arbitration in 2002.

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