Public To Weigh In On Proposed Wicomico Raises

SALISBURY – The Wicomico County Council voted to forward compensation increases for the county’s executive, council and sheriff’s position toward legislation to provide the opportunity for public input.
On Tuesday morning, the Wicomico County Council discussed the direction of compensation enhancements that were recommended to them last month by the Wicomico County Compensation and Allowance Commission.
The commission met three times during the summer and fall of 2013 to prepare recommendations regarding the compensation of the county executive, sheriff, council president, council vice president and council members. A few weeks ago, the commission presented a report that reflected significant disparities in a couple of the county official positions and seeks deep consideration for pay increases.
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 (CPI) data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2014 amount would have to be $98,724. In addition, the commission reviewed the range of compensation for similar positions in Maryland. Currently, the Wicomico position has the lowest compensation level.
The members of the commission estimate that, when the Wicomico amount is subjected to a market adjustment using the Cost of Living Index numbers published by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development for each of these jurisdictions, the desired compensation level for the position becomes $120,417. At this amount, the Wicomico compensation level would still be the lowest in the state but the gap will be narrower and the amount will be aligned with the complexity of the tasks at hand and the skill sets requires by the job description for the position.
Unfortunately, the current economic and fiscal climate would make this large of an adjustment problematic. Therefore, the members of the commission propose that the county executive’s compensation be set at the inflation adjusted amount of $98,724 and then be pegged to the same annual cost of living adjustments that apply to all county employees.
Using the same analysis for other positions, the commission recommended increasing the sheriff’s pay from $85,000 to $95,000; county council president from $18,000 to $20,906; county council vice president from $17,000 to $19,745; and county council members from $16,000 to $18,583.
According to Council Administrator Matt Creamer, the County Council has the authority to approve the commission’s recommendations or a smaller increase by resolution, or reject the recommendations all together. However, the charter does not allow for the council to grant salary increases larger then what the commission recommended.
“The charter does not specify a date certainty. However, there is a practical matter. If the council decides upon increases for any of these positions, you would have to pay cash prior to the county executive submitting his budget for Fiscal Year 2015, so that he can provide money in the budget that is needed,” Creamer added.
County Attorney Ed Baker said it would be at least 90 days for a resolution approving salary increases to become effective between a public hearing and passage of the legislation.
Councilwoman Gail Bartkovich did not agree with pegging the salary increases to the CPI or Cost of Living Index, which the remainder of the council agreed with.
“After listening to the audit report this morning and looking at the increases and decreases we have experienced over the years in property taxes, I would base my decision on how the county is functioning financially, which is better than focusing on only the CPI,” Councilwoman Sheree Sample-Hughes said.
Councilman Joe Holloway is not in favor of increasing elected officials’ salaries.
“Just this morning we heard about income tax decreases, our assessable base is declining, Mr. Pollitt [County Executive] made the comment about how we have the history of not taking care of our ‘stuff’, and I think the county has a ways to go before we are back in good graces with financial situations,” he said. “While we ran for election, I didn’t see anyone standing at a podium saying I want to be elected but I want more money when I get elected. If anybody is to get a raise I would like to see the taxpayers of Wicomico County get a raise by not having to pay a tax increase next year …”
Council Vice President John Hall thanked the committee for its work.
“I appreciate you comparing us to other counties in the State of Maryland and while seeing us in the bottom is certainly an embarrassment our economy is certainly not that strong in Wicomico County … and I think in order to attract good quality people into doing the job that it is done they have to be paid an respectful amount and what they deserve in this position,” he said.
Council President Matt Holloway recognized the council was divided over the matter and felt the best direction was to direct Baker to form the compensation recommendations into legislation to move toward a public hearing to hear public opinion.