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Bill would give sheriff a raise

February 04, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- A bill being considered by Washington County's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly would raise the county sheriff's pay to $105,000 beginning in 2010 and take the power to consider any future raises away from state lawmakers.

That scale would make the sheriff the highest paid employee in the Sheriff's Department. There currently are about five employees who earn more, officials said.

A commission recommended last year that the sheriff's salary be raised from $80,000 to $96,000. Washington County Commissioners voted to recommend a raise to $88,000.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, called the $25,000 pay increase too "dramatic" to be justified given the country's and the state's current economic situation.

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The proposal was based on a recommendation by Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore. Under his proposal, the sheriff would be paid based on a salary scale that would increase annually with no input from the General Assembly. State lawmakers currently must approve all pay increases of certain Washington County elected officials, including the sheriff, County Commissioners and the School Board.

Washington County Sheriff's Department Maj. Sam Billotti presented the proposal to the delegation Wednesday. They said they would need additional information in order to make a decision, and the delegation appeared divided over the issue.

"My concern was that if we have a salary that's formula-driven that there will never ever again be a review of it by the General Assembly," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington. "And that's what I oppose. I think that the consideration of salaries for elected officials should be a very public process."

Munson said that under the proposal presented Wednesday, the sheriff's salary would go up annually without any notification to Washington County residents or the General Assembly.

"It takes control away from us completely," Munson said. "We'll never again be able to review the sheriff's salary. I'm not willing to cede my responsibility as an elected official to do that."

He threatened to kill any bill that takes that power away from state lawmakers.

Billotti said that while the sheriff is not always the highest-paid employee in sheriff's departments across the state, Washington County's sheriff has many responsibilities. He oversees 260 employees and 440 inmates, Billotti said.

Some of those employees are making more than Mullendore.

Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., who is unaffiliated and represents parts of Frederick and Washington counties, said elected officials like the sheriff do not have to make more than their employees. Weldon said those professionals could have more years of service than the sheriff, and it would be a disservice to pay the sheriff more just because he or she has won an election.

Shank said officials should do a comparison of sheriffs' salaries across Maryland. Billotti and others said they would gather more data and present the information at a future delegation meeting.

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