Ocean City Voters To Make Call On Elected Officials’ Salaries; Proposal Increases Mayor Pay To $50K, Council To $20K

OCEAN CITY — It remains to be seen if the resort’s Mayor and Council will get their first pay raise in over three decades, but if it happens, it will be because the town’s voters support the hike.

Late last year, it was brought up that the salaries of the town’s elected officials should be increased, or the pay hike should at least be explored. Currently, Ocean City councilmembers earned $10,000 per year, while the mayor’s position earns $30,000. The salaries were last increased in 1989.

To that end, then-City Manager Doug Miller began research into a proposed salary increase for the town’s elected officials. Since then, Miller has been replaced by City Manager Terry McGean, who picked up the research in order to make recommendations on a proposed salary hike for the Mayor and Council.

McGean delved into several aspects of a proposed salary increase for the town’s elected officials, including a comparison of similarly-sized jurisdictions around the state. McGean’s research determined to town’s elected officials’ salaries were considerably lower than officials in other jurisdictions. Of course, Ocean City is somewhat unique in that its annual average population is comparatively low compared to other municipalities and jurisdictions around the state, but the town swells to the second largest municipality in Maryland during the peak summer season and much of the shoulder seasons.

After careful research, McGean presented his findings to the Mayor and Council during Tuesday’s work session. The recommendation includes increasing the mayor’s salary from the current $30,000 to $50,000. Under the recommendations, a councilmember’s salary would increase from the current $10,000 to $20,000, while the council president’s salary would increase from the current $11,000 to $23,000.

While on the surface, the proposed increases would exceed 100% in some cases, McGean explained a variety of factors for the recommendations. For example, if the consumer price index (CPI) since the last Mayor and Council pay raise in 1989 was considered, the recommended mayor’s salary would be over $71,000, while councilmembers would earn over $23,000 and the council president would earn over $26,000, all of which are considerably lower than what was recommended.

Again, when considered in terms of population in comparison to similarly sized jurisdictions, the proposed pay increases for the Mayor and Council would still fall at or near other municipalities. For research purposes, Ocean City’s average population size was assumed at 70,000 and the general fund budget was set at $88 million. McGean said those assumptions were modest, particularly on the population side, because of Ocean City uniqueness as a seasonal resort with a population that often swells to over 200,000 during the season.

The research shows salaries, populations and budgets of 23 municipalities from one end of the state to the other. In Salisbury, for example, the population is 30,000 and the mayor’s salary is $25,000. In Annapolis, the population is 38,000 and the mayor’s salary is $98,000. In similarly-sized Frederick, the population is 65,000 and the mayor’s salary is $90,000. McGean said based on those assumptions, the recommendation for the Ocean City mayor’s salary could be higher than what he was recommending.

McGean presented his cursory research earlier this year with similar recommendations. During Tuesday’s recommendation, he provided further evidence of his research with recommendations based on population size, the size of the town’s budget and the CPI adjustments.

“We’ve talked about this a number of times,” he said. “I hope this time it becomes a little clearer.”

McGean explained there were two courses of action for affecting the proposed pay increases, only one of which was really tenable and acceptable. The council could not vote to increase its own salaries and any change would go into effect after the upcoming election in November. One option would be to approve the proposed pay increases by ordinance, or by putting to the voters in the November election through a referendum question on the ballot.

“Per the town’s code, there are a couple of ways to do this,” he said. “You could do it by ordinance, but it would have to be in place within 60 days of the election and we’re not past that point. The second is to put it before the voters in the form of a ballot question at the election, which would take affect immediately after the election.”

Councilman John Gehrig said he favored the latter.

“Two things are important,” he said. “We definitely shouldn’t vote on this ourselves. It should be put on the ballot.”

Gehrig has said during prior discussion on a proposed salary increase the relatively low salaries for the town’s elected officials potentially shrunk the size of the field of candidates. Gehrig has said not all who desire to serve on the council can afford to do so with the time commitment and the limitations on their private sector lives. He reiterated the point on Tuesday.

“None of us do this for the money,” he said. “We live in a small community and typically have a small pool of candidates. The biggest undervalue is the council and certainly the council president. If you keep it low, it does reduce the competition for the council seats. I think the increase is important.”

Councilman and former long-time council president Lloyd Martin agreed. Martin said after over three decades, it was time to revisit the pay structure for the town’s elected officials.

“I’ve been up here a long time,” he said. “Being council president is a big responsibility. It’s a job people should want to do, but it’s hard to do it with the time commitment and the long hours for $10,000. I know that the people sitting up here have earned it.”

Martin said after over three decades, it was time to revisit the pay structure for the town’s elected officials.

“I believe Terry has made a good recommendation,” he said. “It’s something that needs to be addressed more often than every 30 years. It’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of work.”

Councilman Mark Paddack agreed the pay is not always commensurate with the hours spent at meetings, subcommittee meetings and other commitments, but being a councilmember is not about the pay.

“You throw your hat in the ring and there’s not a lot to show for it,” he said. “I didn’t do it for the money. We all do this because we love our town, and we love this community. I support a referendum to allow the voters decide what their elected officials should be paid. It’s a very subjective approach.”

Paddack said the proposed increase in the mayor’s salary was particularly important because of the hours Mayor Rick Meehan spends advocating on behalf of the town and making trips to Annapolis to testify on various bills germane to the resort and his endless press junkets to promote the town. He pointed out Mayor Rick Meehan does all of those things, but the proposed salary hike is not about the current mayor specifically.

“One of the things I’ve noticed over the years about the mayor is he is very dedicated and provides a great service to the community,” he said. “The thing is, we’re not talking about Mayor Meehan. We’re talking about potentially future mayors. The voters last decided on an increase in 1989.”

After considerable debate, the council voted 6-0 with Councilman Peter Buas absent to bring McGean’s proposed salary increase structure to the town’s electorate during the November election in the form of a referendum question on the ballot.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.