Montgomery County employees are scheduled to receive pay increases for the second straight year, while election-year politics have begun to creep into county decisions.
The County Council cast an 8-1 preliminary vote Tuesday to approve a package worth more than $23 million of wage, step, longevity and other increases negotiated by the county and the three unions that represent its workers.
Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist.3) of Gaithersburg was the dissenting vote.
The council is scheduled to take a final vote on the fiscal 2015 budget — which includes this package — on May 22.
Under the terms of the agreements, members of the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization would receive a 3.25 percent pay increase on Sept. 1. Seasonal workers would receive a raise of 50 cents an hour.
Members of the Fraternal Order of Police would receive a 2.1 percent increase on July 1, while members of the International Association of Firefighters are scheduled to receive a 2.75 percent increase on the same date.
All three groups would get 3.5 percent step increases for employees. Employees at the top of their pay level and not eligible for another step increase would receive 3 percent longevity payment for MCGEO employees and 3.5 percent for FOP and IAFF employees.
Fiscal 2014 was the first year the council approved raises after three years without them during the recession, keeping employees from getting an average of $30,000 in pay.
Andrews suggested that total increases of 3 to 5 percent would be more appropriate.
Employees deserve raises, but the increases should be more modest, said Andrews, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for county executive against current Executive Isiah Leggett and former Executive Douglas M. Duncan.
To make these increases with an economy that’s still recovering shows that Leggett and the council haven’t learned from the recession, Andrews said.
Reducing the level of the pay raises would let the council reduce the county’s energy tax back to its 2010 level, as it promised to do when it was originally raised several years ago, he said.
The cuts that the council had to make in 2008 and 2009 wouldn’t have been as deep if the pay raises before the recession hadn’t been as large, he said.
Council Vice President George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) of Takoma Park and Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At Large) of Takoma Park said Andrews shouldn’t focus so much on the percentage of the increases.
It can be expensive to pay employees, but the county relies on its employees to provide services to residents, Leventhal said.
Elrich said the increases preliminarily approved on Tuesday still don’t get people back to where they were before the recession.
“We did hard things to people” during the recession, and now the county is in a position to do better for its employees, he said.
Council President Craig L. Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said he agreed with Andrews that fiscal restraint is needed, but the council did that before the recession.
“Now it’s time for us to have measured growth,” Rice said.
Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) of Garrett Park said she understands that Andrews is running for county executive, but she stands by the council’s decisions over the years and supports the increases supported on Tuesday.
Council members have to take Andrews’ ambitions into consideration as the June 24 primary approaches, and the advantage of being the only opposing vote is that he gets a platform for his views, Floreen said.
“We are in campaign mode here,” she said.