OCEAN CITY — It remains to be seen if Ocean City elected officials will get their first raise in over three decades, but if it happens, it will likely be because the town’s voters supported the hike.
Late last year, it was brought up during the public comment period of a Mayor and Council meetings that the salaries of the town’s elected officials should be increased, or at least explored. Ocean City councilmembers earn $10,000 per year, while the mayor’s position earns $30,000. The salaries were last increased in 1989.
City Manager Doug Miller was tasked with researching a potential salary increase for councilmembers. Miller said his research supported an increase after he looked at elected officials’ salaries in other jurisdictions around the state of comparable size, or even some with smaller populations and less complex issues.
“I endorse that because you don’t get paid to the level of the municipalities that’s I’ve left,” he said. “The workload that you have and the complexities of the issues that you have to look at are so much higher than probably any of the municipalities in the state.”
Miller explained how he reached the salary increase recommendation. In Annapolis, with a population of nearly 39,000, the council salary is $15,000 with a $1,000 expense allowance. In Rockville, with a population of over 64,000, the council salary is nearly $29,000.
“I put together a methodology to try to come up with a number,” he said. “I admit it isn’t perfect, but I tried to look at Maryland municipalities and their size and complexities and look at what those municipalities paid. Our councilmembers get paid $10,000 a year. As I boiled down the methodology, I feel like your salaries should be more like $2,000 a month, or $24,000 a year.”
Miller explained there were a couple of ways to increase the salaries, if that was the desire of the council.
“It’s entirely up to you,” he said. “You could do it by ordinance, which would have to be completed 60 days before the next election. You could put it on the ballot in November. That’s probably a cleaner way to do it. If it’s confirmed, all councilmembers would get a raise.”
Councilman Mark Paddack said Miller’s research included a wealth of information on council salaries around the state, but did not mention the mayor. Miller explained the different forms of city government around the state made the mayor salary issue more complicated.
“Some municipalities have a council-city manager form of government, and some have a strong mayor form of government,” he said. “I’d have to delve into that a little more. It’s easier for the council. It’s not as easy for the mayor.”
Nonetheless, Paddack continued to push for more information on the mayor’s salary.
“I would suggest that we table this for today and ask the city manager to take a look at weak mayor positions, I guess is what they call it,” he said. “We are a council-city manager form of government with a so-called weak mayor. No disrespect Mr. Mayor. I know you’re a strong mayor.”
Paddack said he supported putting the council salary increase issue before the voters in the form of a referendum.
“I’m all for moving this forward to referendum in November 2022, if we’re going to do this and put it before the voters,” he said. “I think there is support among my colleagues to let us put it on a referendum and let the voters decide. Those are the ones we work for.”
As far as Paddack’s push for the mayor’s position to be included for consideration, Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out he did not initiate the discussion.
“Just for the record, I think this was brought up for review of the council salaries, and not the mayor’s salary,” he said. “It’s certainly nothing I had requested.”
Councilman John Gehrig said the issue has been raised before over the years.
“I think former councils did not support an increase because they wanted less competition,” he said. “I think raising the salaries will increase the desire for more candidates as well. It is a lot of time.”
The Mayor and Council meet weekly throughout the year for the most part. Each of the councilmembers also serve on multiple committees and commissions, and there are public appearance throughout the year. The council is also required to do a significant amount of research with their weekly agenda packets.
Council President Matt James pointed out the time commitment, but said increasing the elected officials’ salaries could improve the town’s election process with potentially more candidates and, subsequently, more voters.
“It’s a tremendous time commitment,” he said. “The last time the mayor and council salaries were raised was 1989. I wasn’t even born yet. I welcome competition. I think with the candidate turnout and the voter turnout we’ve seen in the last few elections, I think that more competition would be good. I welcome that.”
Councilman Lloyd Martin agreed the salary increase issue should be put to referendum.
“Let’s put it on the ballot and let the voters decide,” he said. “Let the people vote on it. I will say we don’t do it for the money. We do it because of our love for Ocean City.”
Gehrig said at the current level of $10,000 annually for the council, and $11,000 for the council president, the pool of potential candidates was diminished because many could not afford the time commitment away from their regular jobs.
“The reality is we lose money to be here,” he said. “There is only a small segment of the population that can afford to do that. It’s not a lot of money for the time commitment. None of use want to be up here forever. This isn’t a lifetime gig. It’s a small base of potential candidates.”
After considerable debate, the council appeared to support the referendum idea, but no formal action was taken. Instead, Miller was directed to drill down a little deeper on his research and look into the mayor’s salary issue.