After the regular St. Mary's County commissioners meeting on Tuesday, the board met in a closed executive session, and then reconvened to vote on salary increases for the county administrator and several county department heads that total more than $40,000 annually.
In a 3-2 vote, commissioners approved 2.5% increases, ranging from $3,175 to $4,577, in salary for department heads, including County Administrator Rebecca Bridgett; Chief Financial Officer Jeannett Cudmore; John Deatrick, director of the department of public works and transportation; Lori Jennings-Harris, director of aging and human services; Bill Hunt, director of land use and growth management; Chris Kaselemis, director of economic development; Bob Kelly, information technology officer; and Arthur Shepherd, director of recreation and parks. In addition, a market adjustment increase of $10,000 was provided to David Weiskopf, county attorney.
Commissioner John O’Connor (R) and Commissioner Eric Colvin (R) both voted against the salary increases, while the three other commissioners supported the raises.
Colvin told The Enterprise that he assured county heads his decision to vote against the raises was “in no way a reflection on their performance,” but that he could not support it when “the commissioners as a whole voted no” on pay parity for the county’s sheriff’s office.
O’Connor said he is “truly at a loss for words” and this “abhorrent vote” to increase the pay of employees who already make six-figure salaries is the “exact opposite” of what commissioners decided to do for law enforcement officers.
“The same three commissioners who said there was no money in the budget voted yes to the raises [for county department heads] mid-budget season … and it wasn’t until I insisted that it be done publicly” that the public was made aware of the vote, he said, adding this is a “slap in the face” to the process, citizens of this county and sheriff’s office employees.
He also mentioned that the raises took place only one week after a county department head told a commissioner that they felt they were not equally compensated.
According to O’Connor, sheriff’s office employees did receive a raise at the beginning of the fiscal year but he said it was small, “maybe around 1%.”
However, when asked by The Enterprise, Bridgett said that sheriff's deputies received a merit increase of 2.5% plus a 1% cost-of-living allowance and a 1.5% market adjustment, for a total 5% salary increase. Correctional officers received a 2.5% merit increase, a 1% COLA, and a 1.96% market adjustment, for a total increase of about 5.4%.
Proposed deputy salary adjustments for pay parity with neighboring counties would add about $3.5 million to the annual budgeted amount of $19 million.
When asked why he supported the raises, Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said last year the commissioners “gave teachers extraordinary raises,” the sheriff’s got a raise, and county employees “got a step up” when department heads did not.
“Why ostracize a small group of people?” he asked.
O’Connor claimed that department heads already did receive raises at the beginning of the budget year.
According to Bridgett, some county department heads were given raises at the beginning of the last budget year, including merit increases of 2.5% to the county’s human resources and emergency services heads as well as the golf course manager, all of whom were not included in Tuesday’s salary increases.
A 3.71% market adjustment increase to be phased in within three years was provided to county employees beginning this fiscal year, in addition to a 2.5% merit increase and 1% COLA, equaling a total 7.21% increase.