County workers to get $500

Other tax, fee hikes still under consideration

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

All employees of St. Mary's County government with benefits will get $500 bonus sometime after July 1, the county commissioners agreed Monday on a 4-1 vote.

Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) made the proposal. "They're just as valuable as any other employee out there," he said.

He noted that the board of education employees are still getting raises from negotiated agreements. "I don't think they're getting hurt that bad despite the rhetoric that we hear," Morgan said. Those step-increase raises for school employees negotiated last year were delayed but will go into effect soon.

With gas prices just under $4 a gallon, Commissioner Dan Morris (R) said, "I think a lot of our employees deserve a little bit more than that."

The $500 stipends will cost about $340,000 in a county budget of $192 million for fiscal 2012, said Elaine Kramer, chief financial officer. There are about 650 county government employees, according to the human resources office.

Although it is not mandated, Morgan also said, "I would ask all county employees to get on electronic deposit" to save money on printing checks.

Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R) was the lone vote of opposition to the $500 stipends. While the board of education is facing furlough days and pink slips, "Now we're talking about a pay increase" for county employees, he said.

The commissioners themselves do not get the stipend, Morgan noted. County government employees are not scheduled for a cost-of-living increase or any merit increases.

A remaining $982,000 not allocated in the county budget will be used to pay directly for building projects, instead of having to borrow money, the commissioners decided, saving on future interest payments.

The commissioners are carrying forward $12 million in surplus funds from past budgets. There is also a "rainy day" reserve of $1.6 million and $11.8 million in a bond rating reserve.

Morgan also recommended increases last week in the county hotel tax and in two fees. He proposed raising the accommodation tax on hotel stays from 5 percent to 7 percent, raising the solid waste disposal fee on residential property taxes from $60 a year to $75 and raising the fare for the St. Mary's Transit System buses from $1 to $2 and $3 for an all-day pass.

The hike in the hotel tax would raise an additional $375,000. The solid waste fee would bring in another $580,000. The STS fare increase would garner another $296,000.

Those increases are not built into the fiscal 2012 budget yet. Public hearings would be needed on the hotel tax and STS fare increases. The solid waste fee could be increased without one, in the opinion of the county attorney. It is up the commissioners on whether to go forward on those proposed increases.