- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Following last week’s controversial county budget decision, the Charles County unit of the Fraternal Order of Police announced that it intends to take legal action against the county.
The $354.5 million fiscal 2015 plan that the commissioners approved in a 3-2 vote June 10 has been criticized by community members for its lack of pay increases for police and inadequate funding for opening St. Charles High School in August.
The Maryland Independent reported last week that the budget holds the property tax rate at $1.141 per $100 of assessed value, and although it includes 1.8 and 2.1 percent funding increases for the school system and the Charles County Sheriff’s Office raises, these departments did not see their requested increases.
Commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) and Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) voted against the budget, which represents a 4.6 percent increase from the county’s current $339 million budget.
FOP President John Elliott told the Independent last week that they did not intend “to just roll over and let it go.” Members of FOP Lodge 24 voted unanimously Tuesday evening to hire Washington, D.C.-based law firm Bredhoff & Kaiser to review the specs of the decision and, accordingly, take legal action, according to a June 19 news release. Sgt. Bob Kiesel, the lodge’s state trustee, said Thursday that while a lawsuit seems to be the most likely course of action, there is also the possibility that they might file an injunction against the county or take whatever action the lawyers suggest.
Kiesel said the lodge previously has spoken with the law firm when they previously considered legal action against the county in relation to pay issues. The county’s code, Kiesel said, mandates that the pay Charles County sheriff’s officers receive must match the Maryland State Police’s pay scale.
Starting pay for officers is $40,000, with pay increases every year for 18 years according to the scale, according to the MSP website. While the MSP’s pay scale would provide for “small pay raises for some and not others,” Kiesel said, the commissioners chose to ignore this.
“The county code is very specific,” Kiesel said, adding that they will “be ready to move forward shortly” with whatever course of action the lawyers suggest.
Kelly and Robinson likened the budget decision to past actions taken by commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D) and Commissioners Debra Davis (D) and Bobby Rucci (D), like the controversies surrounding the tier map and comprehensive plan. Collins, Davis and Rucci voted in favor of the budget.
“It’s unfortunate that they have to go to these lengths to see a pay increase that we’re obligated to provide,” Kelly said. “I’ve never seen anything like this. We’re supposed to support and fund these agencies.”
Robinson said when the budget was passed, he “knew it wouldn’t be the end.”
“I’m not surprised because the county is required by law to give the step increases,” Robinson said. “It’s one thing to vote on policy. It’s another to violate the law.”
Although Kelly said she hoped the threat of legal action would make the other three “see the seriousness and reconsider” their vote, Robinson said he supported the FOP in this course of action.
“In my opinion, the county violated the law,” Robinson said.
Reached by phone Thursday, Collins said he felt it “wouldn’t be prudent or useful to weigh in based on speculation” as the FOP had not yet decided specifically on a course of action.
In an email, Rucci said salaries are decided “on the administrative levels by the elected leaders of those organizations.” Rucci also said during his tenure, the board voted to increase the sheriff’s office’s funding by 26 percent.
“I’d love to give everyone a raise, but our experts in Fiscal Services have advised us that there is no money for anyone to receive a pay increase unless we raise taxes and I am not voting to raise taxes,” Rucci wrote. “ ... The option to use funding this year (for pay raises) that wouldn’t be available next year would have been irresponsible and created an $11,000,000 deficit next year which could have created lay-offs and/or furloughs. The option to raise taxes was a non-starter. I will devote my time and efforts during the months ahead to secure a revenue source which will provide funding for pay increases for the deputies and employees of the Sheriff’s Office, as well as for teachers and County government employees.”
Davis did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
County government spokeswoman Crystal Hunt declined to comment.