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September 25, 2008

Struggling Citizens = Pay Hike?

Joan Marie Aquilino

In the legislative package that is just now being developed for the upcoming session, Commissioner David Gray put a proposal on the table for not only a raise for the Board of County Commissioners but a raise of huge proportions and with no reasoning other than it makes sense to him. How could you argue with that?


If Commissioner Gray spends the rest of our tax dollars in the same easy, cavalier manner in which he put forth this proposal, then the taxpayers of Frederick County have a problem much bigger than the commissioners’ salary.


He even went so far as to say that the odds of his returning for another term were slim. So, this somehow made his proposal more valid? Nothing he said makes it impossible for him to run again. He offered not one ounce of valid justification. The shock value of the $75,000 proposal lessens the impact of anything else being put on the table?


Yes, I'm perfectly aware I'm on the outside looking in. But that isn't always a bad thing. That distance can sometimes provide a better overall view.


This all comes at a time when the next county budget will be one of the most difficult ever; people are losing their homes; their jobs; utilities are on the rise, and more are looking to the county for help than ever before. We can only pray our taxes are not raised this coming year. It would be a pretty hard pill to swallow knowing our taxes are going up to give someone else a raise.


2002-2006 BOCC salary per yr.   $30,000 x 5  =   $150,000

2006-2010 BOCC salary per yr.   $45,000 x 5  =   $225,000

2010 BOCC proposed salary       $75,000 x 5  =   $375,000


From 2006 to 2010 the total salaries for a part time commissioner position will have more than doubled from $150,000 to $375,000. Commissioners also have a small expense account and are given mileage and computers, blackberries and wireless cards in some cases.


The office of county commissioner has historically been considered a part-time job. If this is no longer the case and it has – or needs to become – a full time elected position, then don’t we need to rethink the staffing, too? If our county has truly gotten so big in population and budget that we need five full-time commissioners to run it, then we also need to look at restructuring our form of government prior to raises being doled out.


We have a county manager and an assistant county manager with an average salary of $142,600, plus added staff. We have departments that have divided and split several times in recent years. This Board of County Commissioners developed two new divisions, which also have their own staff.


So, in essence the day-to-day operation of the county is being done by the staff and county managers under the direction of the commissioners. If they aren’t confident in their staff, maybe they need to address that. I’m not making a judgment. I’m of the assumption the commissioners have hired the best available.


Some will say you can’t compare the Frederick County Board of Education with the Board of County Commissioners and I’d agree in most aspects except one. The Board of Education – as an elected board – receives and spends one half or better of the entire county budget, plus state and federal funds.


The difference lies in the fact that it appears the commissioners actively runs the county with staff input instead of the other way around. The school board meets twice a month while the commissioners meet eight or more times a month in public session. In many ways the Board of Education might actually be making more than the commissioners when you break it down to percentages of duties and time spent.


Some questions to ask: Why do they come in twice a week?


Does the county supply them with laptop computers, cell phones, blackberries, all sorts of things to keep the five-member board connected?


Can work sessions be condensed to once a week?


Can budgeting be done in more effective fashion?


Can’t one of the five commissioners cover Winchester Hall one day a week, instead of one or two doing most of the work?


Is it necessary to have a commissioner liaison on so many boards? Can‘t minutes be provided to the commissioners? Can’t their presence be requested if needed? What is the purpose if some don‘t attend many of the meetings?


We need one commissioner in Annapolis as much as possible particularly during the legislative session. Pick one, or make that the president’s job, or make another position for a member, say legislative liaison to the General Assembly with a salary bonus and expectations for said bonus. Pick the person best able to serve the needs of all Frederick citizens without party consideration. Let them form a working relationship with the delegation and others in Annapolis as charter county executives do. I'd even go for a driver and county car for that person.


As an outside observer I see – say, Commissioner A & D putting in the hours and doing the work of three, while I see Commissioner B, E, and C doing only enough to squeak by and doing things I'd call campaigning instead of improving our county. Do we need three full-time commissioners instead of five part-time? This would make each commissioner more visible and accountable to the public and could justify a full time position with accompanying salary.


Also look at the makeup of the board now. It’s always being said only wealthy, retired or business owners can afford to be commissioners. I could be mistaken, but I don’t see any of those stereotypes as the norm. Those serving more than one term were not old when they started, nor are they old now. We’ve got a lawyer, an accountant/Mom, a stay at home Father, and a Realtor to name a few. I’m guessing the average age might be in the 50’s. That’s certainly not retirement age.


So, at this point none of the arguments put forth hold an ounce of water. It reminds me a little bit of an insurance scam. Ask for the sky and settle for something less.


For Frederick County, this is not the right time, place or budget to give the commissioners a raise just because it makes sense to one single person with no justifications other than his personal opinion and a statement that it more than likely won’t benefit him.


’til next time . . .


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