- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2000

ANNAPOLIS Baltimore leaders argue the city needs to pay more to attract top talent, but raising their own salaries by $301,000 while facing a $158 million shortfall has brought sharp criticism from state lawmakers and residents.
A taxpayers group is questioning why the city's mayor and City Council members have approved substantial pay raises for themselves, their aides and the city comptroller while the city is struggling to make ends meet.
Former Mayor Kurt Schmoke refused to take a pay raise because of the city's financial condition. That's not the case for new Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat.
The previous council approved the raises, and Mr. O'Malley intends to earn what they approved, a spokesman for the mayor said.
The council raised the mayor's salary from $95,000 to $125,000, and Mr. O'Malley also has increased the salary potential for his top aides from a maximum of $108,700 to a maximum of $140,000.
Baltimore council members until lately paid less than half as much as their counterparts in Washington, D.C., a city of similar size and problems, including suburban flight, poverty and crime increased council members' pay by $11,000 to $48,000.
Mr. O'Malley and Sheila Dixon, president of the all-Democratic council, say the increases are necessary to attract talent in a tight job market, but some state lawmakers say they have gone too far.
"It just concerns me what the message is to city taxpayers, when we're facing the problems we're facing," said Delegate Brian K. McHale, Baltimore Democrat.
Meanwhile, members of the Baltimore Homeowners' Coalition, which represents 200 community associations, questioned why a part-time council would give itself an almost 30 percent raise, from $37,000 a year to $48,400 a year.
The council is only allowed to vote raises for itself and the mayor once every four years, said Mrs. Dixon and a spokesman for the mayor.
Maryland Sen. Joan Carter Conway a visible and vocal O'Malley backer during the campaign said city leaders have lots of work ahead of them and can be expected to earn their salaries.
"Based on the types of issues and social problems in Baltimore, they would be entitled we just need to make sure they do the work," said Mrs. Conway, a Baltimore Democrat.
Mrs. Conway said a commission four years ago recommended setting the mayor's salary at about $135,000, but then-Mayor Kurt Schmoke, a Democrat, turned down the raise, noting he could afford to do without it.
"He had mercy on the city," Mrs. Conway said.
Expectations have run high that Mr. O'Malley will have success addressing city ills Mr. Schmoke didn't solve.
Mrs. Dixon's salary has increased $15,000 to $80,000 a year, and she also makes $56,000 a year working a second job with the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. Comptroller Joan M. Pratt also received a $15,000 pay raise to $80,000 and operates an accounting firm.
"It's just outrageous," said Karen M. Footner, president of the homeowners coalition. "Baltimore city is just seriously out of whack. The council is just a part-time job, and they don't do a good job, anyway."
Mrs. Dixon said council members often work full time, even though their jobs are described as part-time in the city charter.
"What the homeowners coalition should do is look at our schedule," Mrs. Dixon said. "Maybe they need to come and spend a day with us. I think the criticism is unfair."

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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