- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

Hefty salary increases that county councils in Maryland are giving themselves have riled taxpayers — especially In Prince George’s County where the raise was one of the largest.

“I think it’s too much,” District Heights resident Antonio Williams said of the 18 percent raise that increased the salary of a Prince George’s County Council member to $89,000 a year.

“I got 5 percent,” said Mr. Williams, 28, a night supervisor at Bladensburg Elementary School. “Everybody in the county [government] got 5 percent.”

Riverdale resident Istatu Sesay, who earns her pay driving an ice cream truck, said she wondered how the council members earned their windfall.

“I don’t see anything they are doing, like cleaning up the county or stopping crime,” said Miss Sesay, 21.

County officials have recently struggled with such issues as affordable housing, improving public schools and crime, including such violent crimes as carjacking and especially along the District border.

Prince George’s County Council member Thomas R. Hendershot said the raise was approved, in part, because the nine-member council wanted to keep pace with the Montgomery County Council, which in May approved a 13 percent pay increase over two years, eventually giving each of its members an $89,721 annual salary.

“The jurisdictions are very similar,” he said. “The principal difference … is the wealth that is in Montgomery County. But in Prince George’s County we have more complicated issues. That adds up to a strong case that our governance should be compensated similarly.”

The council also approved increasing the county executive’s pay 14 percent to $160,000 a year.

The pay raises do not take effect until December, when the new council and county executive will be sworn in following the election.

County Executive Jack B. Johnson, a Democrat, and seven of the council members are running for re-election.

Former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne K. Curry, who served on the panel that recommended a 4 percent council raise, also defended the 18 percent increase by saying it aligned the county with richer Montgomery County.

“It’s not a question of where the base started,” said Mr. Curry, a Democrat. “The more appropriate barometer is where does it put you with your peers. It doesn’t seem inappropriate to me.”

In Montgomery County, community activists who regularly criticize the council’s decisions also agreed with the pay raise.

“It makes it so the average citizen could run for office and support themselves in that job and do right by the citizens,” said Drew Powell, executive director of Neighbors for a Better Montgomery, a watchdog group.

Still, not all Montgomery County taxpayers applauded the council members’ bigger paychecks.

Gaithersburg resident Rhonda J. Pirrone called the pay raise “outrageous.”

“It doesn’t make sense,” said Mrs. Pirrone, 40, a home-improvement contractor. “They need to put more money into schools.”

Montgomery County Council member Howard A. Denis, a Bethesda Republican who cast the lone vote against the raise, agreed.

“I think the salaries are sufficient,” he said.

The pay raise for the Howard County Council, 45 percent to $49,000 a year, also was hard for taxpayers there to rationalize.

“A 45 percent raise — that’s no small thing,” said Mark J. Murray, 22, a bartender from Columbia. “That does seem a little ridiculous. I think that will definitely affect how I vote.”

Tarron Lively contributed to this article.

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