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Commissioners reject $8,000-a-year raise

December 09, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- The Washington County Commissioners decided Tuesday not to support an $8,000-a-year raise for future commissioners that was recommended by a salary study commission. Some commissioners said it would be hard to justify a raise given the present economy.

The commissioners did, however, reach a consensus to support a recommended $600 raise for Board of Education members and an $8,000 raise for the county sheriff, half of the amount suggested by the study commission.

Their recommendations will be sent to the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, which has the authority to adjust those salaries through legislation. Any changes would go into effect following the general elections in 2010.

The Salary Study Commission, a group of nine people appointed by selected organizations, recommended increasing future commissioners' salaries from $30,000 to $38,000 for members and from $33,000 to $41,000 for the president. That represents a 3 percent annual increase for each year between 2002 - when commissioners' salaries last increased - and 2010.

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Under state law, the commissioners may accept, reduce or reject the study commission's recommendations but not increase them.

Commissioners Terry Baker and William J. Wivell said they thought a raise for commissioners was inappropriate while state employees are facing possible furloughs and constituents are being laid off. Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire said he rejected all of the study commission's recommendations because he thinks new methods and criteria are needed to guide the salary adjustment process.

Commissioners John F. Barr and James F. Kercheval did not express opinions on the recommended raise for commissioners, but Kercheval pointed out that in a recent survey of 14 Maryland counties, the Washington County commissioners were the second-lowest paid per capita.

"For those who think our county kind of lives high, we're next to last," Kercheval said.

All commissioners but Aleshire expressed support for the study commission's recommendation to increase future Board of Education members' salaries from $5,500 to $6,100 and the board president's salary from $5,600 to $6,200.

"I think if you look at the hours and the responsibilities, the recommendation is $600, that's minuscule to the amount of effort and research and time that they put into the school board," Barr said. "It's phenomenal."

The study commission recommended an increase in the sheriff's salary to $96,000 from $80,000, based on an increase in crime, responsibilities and the size of the department. The commission's recommendation also said the raise would make the sheriff's salary more appropriate in comparison with other jurisdictions and the employees he oversees, some of whom currently make more than he does.

Barr and Kercheval said they would support that recommendation, but Aleshire and Wivell said they would not. Baker said he would be agreeable to a smaller raise, but not to the full $16,000.

"That is quite a jump," he said.

Asked what amount he would support, Baker suggested an $8,000 raise to $88,000 a year. Barr and Kercheval agreed.

Because the study commission did not recommend raises for orphans' court judges, the state's attorney, the treasurer, elections board supervisors or board of liquor license commissioners, the commissioners could not recommend raises for those officials.

Current recommendations aside, at least two commissioners favored talking to the delegation about changing the way the salaries are evaluated in the future. Aleshire said a method should be devised that factors in hours worked, committees served on and job requirements in comparison to other officials from across the state. For the commissioners, Aleshire and Kercheval said they would like to see salary adjustments tied to the average income in the county so commissioners are rewarded when county residents prosper.

The county is required under state law to have the study commission review salaries at least once every four years, but there is nothing to stop it from calling for reviews more frequently, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said. If new criteria were established, the county could go through the review process again next year and still have time for those recommendations to pass before the 2010 elections, Murray said.

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