April 25, 2010

In Montgomery, nearly 1,200 county employees earn over $100,000, including overtime

Montgomery's top managers make more than those in Fairfax. The top brass in Montgomery and Fairfax counties are raking in big bucks. In Montgomery, nearly 1,200 employees make more than $100,000 when overtime is included in their pay, according to fiscal 2009 data obtained by the Washington Examiner. Fairfax would not release its overtime pay, but still has nearly 800 employees bringing in salaries of more than $100k a year.

The high salaries for so many public workers is "out of balance" with what private companies pay, said Dee Hodges, chairwoman of the Maryland Taxpayers Association. Hodges said the traditional trade-off of public-sector employees forgoing higher wages for more job security is long gone.

"Now they have both the job security and more money," Hodges said.

Still, leaders in Montgomery are making bank compared with their counterparts in Fairfax. Department heads in Montgomery are paid upward of $40,000 a year more than their colleagues across the Potomac, raising questions from taxpayer advocates and union officials about whether the high pay is appropriate given Montgomery's dire fiscal situation. Montgomery is facing nearly a $1 billion gap, and has been warned that it may lose its AAA bond rating. In response, County Executive Ike Leggett has proposed doubling the county's energy tax, raising taxes on cell phones and slashing county services.

Fairfax, which doesn't rely on volatile income tax revenues, is expected to adopt a budget Tuesday that closes only a $250 million gap. Supervisors plan to raise property taxes and bring back a vehicle registration fee to close the hole. Fairfax and Montgomery often are considered rival counties and are virtually identical in many areas, including having about 1 million residents of similar financial and demographic backgrounds.

Montgomery's top earner in fiscal 2009 was Chief Administrative Officer Tim Firestine, who made $266,000. Appointed Fairfax County Executive Anthony Griffin, Firestine's counterpart, made $240,000. Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger makes $216,000 a year, 20 percent more than the Fairfax County Police Chief David Rohrer's $176,000. The $195,000 salary of Montgomery's human resources director, Joe Adler, is 28 percent -- or $43,000 -- more than that of Fairfax HR Director Susan Woodruff.

Not all of the pay comparisons tilt in Montgomery's favor. Fairfax pays some of its higher-level employees, such as deputy county executives and assistant county attorneys, at much higher rates than Montgomery. Montgomery County Executive Leggett's spokesman, Patrick Lacefield, said the county intentionally pays more to attract top talent, whose value to the county far exceeds their higher pay. He noted that comparisons between counties aren't always straightforward and added that Montgomery has lured top Fairfax employees with better pay.

"We have had in the past a long-standing tradition of paying people better ... which is why we've gotten the best people," Lacefield said.

"Oh, come on, does anybody really believe that?" said Gino Renne, president of the Montgomery Municipal and County Government Employees Organization.

Renne said his members are bearing the brunt of the county's budget cuts while management refuses to look at their own compensation.

"There's never been a serious discussion about the excesses in management," he said. SOURCE: Washington Examiner

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