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Washington County Commissioners would prefer not to rule on own raises

October 29, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Several Washington County Commissioners said Tuesday that they would prefer not to be involved in the process of recommending salary raises for their own positions.

State law requires the commissioners every four years to present salary recommendations for several elected positions, including their own, to the county's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

Although an independent commission studies those salaries and makes suggestions to the county commissioners, it is the commissioners who must formally recommend any salary changes to the state legislature.

Altering that process would require changes to the state statute.

"It's kind of awkward," said Commissioners President John F. Barr, who noted that he doesn't even set his own salary at the company he owns, Ellsworth Electric.

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The County Commissioners took no action Tuesday on a proposal from the salary review commission that would raise the salaries of the Washington County Sheriff, Board of Education members and county commissioners.

The commissioners will have to weigh in on the salary review panel's recommendations before Dec. 15, the deadline for the county commissioners to recommend salary changes to the county's delegation.

The county commissioners can "accept, reduce or reject" the review commission's recommendations but cannot increase them, according to state law.

Increases proposed this year include roughly 25 percent raises for the county commissioners, a 20 percent raise for the sheriff and 11 percent raises for Board of Education members.

Commissioners' salaries would increases from $30,000 to $38,000, while the president's salary would go from $33,000 to $41,000.

The sheriff's salary would increase from $80,000 to $96,000.

Board of Education salaries would increase from $5,500 to $6,100, and $5,600 to $6,200 for the board president.

The increases would not take effect until 2010, when the terms of current elected officials expire.

Monda Sagalkin, the chairwoman of the salary commission, said the raises were proposed to make salaries more competitive with counties of similar size in Maryland. The commissioners' salaries have not been increased since 2002, she said.

The commissioners did not comment on the specific salary proposals Tuesday.

Some commissioners, however, echoed Barr's comments, saying it is strange to approve pay raises for their own jobs and other elected positions.

"I think it's kind of awkward," said Commissioner James F. Kercheval, who also said the salary commission's suggestions should be forwarded directly to the state legislature.

"It's ridiculous that it comes back to (the county commissioners). I don't give myself pay raises at work," said Commissioner William J. Wivell, who works as the business manager for Saint James School.

Wivell also said the sluggish economy only makes the prospect of recommending raises more awkward.

"You have 750,000 jobs lost in the country since the beginning of the year. It's a poor time to try to convince those out in the community that this job is worth more money," Wivell said.

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