SALISBURY – The issue of increasing salaries for the Orphan’s Court judges and the sheriff returned for further deliberation this week and approval by a flipped majority of the Wicomico County Council.
Earlier this month, Wicomico County Orphan’s Court Chief Judge Norma Lee Barkley and Judges Melissa Bright and William Smith came before the Wicomico County Council to request an endorsement for the first salary increase for their posts in eight years.
Smith explained the work load, such as cases and hearings, and time requirements for Wicomico County Orphan’s Court have increased tremendously. Additionally, he said the number of required annual educational seminars and different committee meetings the judges serve on have also increased.
Orphan’s Court judges in Maryland are elected to serve a four-year term, and in Wicomico County have not received an increase in salary for the past two terms. Wicomico County Orphan’s Court judges currently receive a salary of $6,400 and are requesting an increase to $9,500.
The salary change of the judges of the Orphans Court is considered by the state legislature and approved by a legislative bill. However, in most cases, a local county is responsible for the funding of salaries and operating costs, therefore the delegation requests a letter of support from the local governing body.
County Executive Rick Pollitt endorsed raising the salaries the full amount requested and had already sent a letter of support to Delegate Rudolph Cane.
The majority of the council at that meeting argued just a few months prior pay raises for the county executive, sheriff and council members were denied due to the economic status of the county, and if the council did not grant those raises it would only be fair not to grant the Orphan’s Court a salary increase.
The council denied the request to endorse a salary increase for the Wicomico County Orphans Court judges in a vote of 3-2 with council members Gail Bartkovich, Joe Holloway and Bob Culver in opposition, Stevie Prettyman and John Hall in favor and Matt Holloway and Sheree Sample-Hughes absent.
In November of last year, a report prepared by the Wicomico County Compensation and Allowance Committee reflected significant disparities of pay for the positions of council, county executive and sheriff.
According to the report, the current annual compensation for the county executive is $85,000. If the amount, which is originally set by the Charter Review Committee in 2003, is adjusted for inflation over the past eight years using cumulative Consumer Price Index data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2014 amount would have to be $98,724.
Using the same analysis, the current annual compensation for the county sheriff is $85,000, and if adjusted the 2014 amount would also be $98,724. The current compensation for the council president position is $18,000, and if adjusted the 2014 amount would be $20,906. The current annual compensation for the council vice president is $17,000, and if adjusted the 2014 amount would be $19,745. The final position reviewed was council members, which have a current annual compensation of $16,000, and if adjusted the amount would be $18,583.
Following lengthy discussions among council as well as public input, the council eventually denied the pay increases.
Following the discussion over Orphan’s Court judges pay increase a couple of weeks ago, Hall returned to his district to question citizens over the issue. According to Hall, he received a consensus to give the raises.
“These are the people supporting us, that elected us to office, and they are satisfied with these are the best people we can have in these positions and they should be fairly compensated,” he said.
Prettyman stated it would be impossible to give all government positions a raise but as far as the four-year term positions of Orphan’s Court judges and the sheriff it is time for an increase to be granted before another four years go by.
“Each one of these people is elected to do this job … and even if they have not gotten raises they still continue to sign up for that position. You do it to help Wicomico County, not just for your personal gain,” Culver said.
Sample-Hughes asserted numerous counties throughout the State of Maryland submitted letters of support to increase their counties’ Orphan’s Court pay for judges, which were reviewed and approved during the current legislative session.
Joe Holloway pointed out it was just announced the State of Maryland lost 9,800 jobs in the month of January.
“Has our economy improved enough to grant these raises?,” Councilman Joe Holloway asked. “I don’t believe we are out of the recession yet. When we took this vote the other day, the reason we weren’t giving raises was because of the economy. Taking the vote over again shows the council is being indecisive on votes they are taking. I don’t understand why we are bringing it back up. Is that what we are going to do every time a vote doesn’t go somebody’s way? We have to bring it back.”
Prettyman made a motion to send a letter of support endorsing Wicomico County Orphan’s Court judges’ salary increase in the full amount requested. The council voted 4-2 to approve with Joe Holloway and Culver opposed and Bartkovich absent.
In turn, the council introduced a resolution to approve a pay raise for the Wicomico County sheriff.
According to the resolution, “the Annotated Code of Maryland, Courts and Judicial Proceedings, provides that the Sheriff of Wicomico County shall receive a salary of the greater of $85,000 in calendar year 1998 and thereafter or the salary set by the County Council before the start of the term of office, which commences from the time of Election.
“The Wicomico County Compensation and Allowance Commission has recommended based on inflation and market differences, to increase the Sheriff’s salary to $95,000 for the 2015-2019 term of office.”
The council voted 4-2 to approve the resolution with Joe Holloway and Culver opposed and Bartkovich absent.