Employee Pay, Benefit Changes Okayed In Split Votes

OCEAN CITY – It’s no secret that the Mayor and City Council have become a split government in regards to the town’s financial position and the council’s responsibilities concerning it.

After the municipal elections last October, the addition of Councilman Brent Ashley formed a new majority vote amongst the council that includes Council members Joe Hall, Jim Hall and Margaret Pillas. Leaving the minority of the vote on most decisions to include Doug Cymek, Mary Knight and Lloyd Martin.

During this week’s Mayor and City Council meeting, the council held nothing back while the list of 11 ordinances regarding decreases in town employee pay scales and benefits were being voted on in second reading.

A motion that included diverse discussion is the elimination of the fifth week of vacation, dependent life insurance as well as a change to the ICMA match from $500 to $200 and to reduce holidays from 12 to 11 days for new and current employees.

Human Resources Director Wayne Evans and staff produced the four items as possible solutions to save the town costs during a previous presentation. Knight pointed out that the four items were presented but not all were recommended.

“I remember during the recommendations that they did not recommend to take away the ICMA match, and they did not recommend to eliminate the dependent life, the only thing I recall is they recommended to eliminate that one day of vacation,” she said.

Cymek added this motion has been misinterpreted.

“Since Nov. 30, I have heard my fellow council members consistently say this is for new hires,” he said. “This is one for existing employees, stop disguising this stuff folks. If you take the dependent life away from these people, and it’s a benefit they can buy at a reasonable cost, it’s going to cost them a fortune. We’re ram-rodding this stuff through.”

Finance Officer Martha Bennett Lucey added that the dependent life insurance costs the town $3,800 a year to provide all employees with a base policy of dependent life insurance.

“It enabled employees to pay out of their own pocket to buy term life insurance very cheaply,” she said. “That’s what the employees get out of it, their own right to buy additional insurance at their own expense.”

Pillas made the motion and it passed 4-3.

Another ordinance calls for reducing new employee pay by 8.8 percent across all pay levels and to allow no movement without council approval.

Cymek asked Pillas, who initiated the amendment, if she knew what the starting salary is for an Ocean City police officer. Pillas had no response.

“It is $40,304, the only reason it is that because they have forgone two increases in the past two years,” Cymek said.

Cymek added that at this point in time they should be making $42,759 plus their cost of living adjustments that they haven’t gotten.

Also, Cymek pointed out that the 8.8-percent decrease would cause the salary of a police officer starting in 2011 or after to be decreased to $36,874.

Cymek used the Maryland State Police (MSP) policies regarding pay and benefits as an example because Council President Jim Hall has said in the past that its regulations could be used as a model as the town changes its own.

“They [MSP] are within $100 of what we pay, but their benefits are far more substantial,” Cymek said. “You always say you want to be transparent I’m just asking you to do the research before you make the decision.”

Pillas continued to accept the motion and it passed in a 4-3 vote.

Cymek’s questioning continued into the next motion – allowing 10 days of personal, sick and bereavement leave, maxing out to an accrual of 20 days, and un-used days would not be permitted to be used toward retirement enhancements.

Cymek asked Pillas if she knew the MSP sick leave policy, she had no response. Cymek answered the MSP is allowed 15 days per year to be accrued in sick leave.

“There is many people in this audience [town employees] that pride themselves in not taking that time,” Cymek said. “What you’re doing is irresponsible and again without thought.”

The amendment passed in a 4-3 vote.

The next motion that Cymek questioned Pillas on was to max out new hires with three weeks of vacation, a year of vacation being accrued every five years. Knight added that the amendment is contrary to the concept of Ocean City.

“We look at Ocean City as a family resort,” she said. “Our new employees that we are treating like step children already wouldn’t even be able to vacation here for a week for the first five years.”

The motion passed in a 4-3 vote.

Despite the minority of the council’s efforts in persuading the rest of the council to slow down, all 11 motions passed in a 4-3 vote.

“You [majority of council] pushed a button and moved too fast,” Martin said. “I don’t think we’ve had time to talk about them [ordinances] all…It doesn’t make any sense to hurry things up…were doing this without all the numbers and all the facts.”