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The commissioners’ future pay raise

By TOM STAUSS/Publisher 1/14/2006

It was highly entertaining to read county commissioner Judy Boggs’ defense of the commissioners’ recent decision to raise their annual pay after the next election to $25,000, from the $18,000 where it has comfortably perched since the 1990s. In percentage terms, that amounts to a 28 percent increase in the base salary, an increase that most county taxpayers won’t realize year-to-year anytime soon, or even in their lifetimes. The fact that the increase was delayed until 2007, a whole year, was a fig leaf designed to inoculate the commissioners from the natural reaction of taxpayers to recoil at this blatant self-dealing.

An election will take place in the meantime, and that somehow is supposed to make what the commissioners did all that more defensible. Presumably, the voters will have an opportunity to register their opinion of the increase at the ballot box, and if they are so inclined, can vote out the incumbents in protest. Those who survive the voters’ pronouncements can bask in the certitude that the electorate has thus laundered the pay raise and that any commissioner, newly elected or incumbent, can accept it in good conscience.

Of course, voters may not even remember the pay raise issue in September, when primaries are held, or in November, in the general election. The hope for amnesia on the part of voters may be the reason the commissioners, or their ever so Machiavellian staff, structured the pay raise the way they did. Even if voters do remember, it’s hard to imagine them basing their votes on a single issue.

The commissioners are correct if they assert that it’s been quite a few years since there was an increase in salary. But that was a decision made by boards of county commissioners over a period of years; they should not have made up in a single year what could have been raised incrementally each year consistent with published cost of living indices. If the commissioners care anything about the symbolism and message sent by a 28 percent increase in one year – it’s a message that they think they’re more worthy than Joe and Jill Taxpayer -- they will roll it back to a more reasonable two or three percent.

It’s almost as if the commissioners, seeing the huge increases in property assessments that are sending great wads of new, spendable cash to Snow Hill, believe their pay should reflect the rising tide of revenues. It shouldn’t, because nothing the county commissioners have done has produced the increase in property values that underlie the massive flow of increased tax receipts to the county that happens each year. The commissioners merely decline to reduce the tax rate back to constant yield, which hardly constitutes heavy lifting and hardly justifies a pay increase.

What was especially galling was Boggs’ smarmy attempt to justify the increase on the fact that she spends 30 or more hours per week on the county’s business, as though all this time and effort is necessary in the performance of her job. Boggs represents a small geographical area in the county, and it’s hard to imagine that her Ocean Pines constituents demand, or benefit from, this large investment of time, attending this or that extraneous function, some of which help get her picture in the newspapers in the interests of re-election.

Nowhere is it written that the job of county commissioner is supposed to be a full-time job; indeed, thankfully, a majority of her colleagues toil for their livelihoods at jobs other than county commissioner. That Boggs turns it into a near full-time job is her choice, but her time investment may be little more than fulfillment of that ancient adage that the time it takes to do a job is that amount of time available to do it. As she is no longer in the work force, Boggs has all the time in the world to play the role of commissioner.

Put another way, Boggs is probably doing a lot of wheel-spinning, or on-the-job training, that other commissioners don’t find necessary or productive or have the time to do.

If Boggs needs more money as compensation for her political labors, she can always run for an office that pays a lot more, like state delegate. As delegates only serve three months out of the year, give or take, serving as a part-time delegate is a great way to maximize income while reducing workload.

A 28 percent increase in commissioners’ pay from 2006 to 2007 is simply too much. Boggs or any of her colleagues could earn some brownie points from their constituents by rolling it back to a percentage increase that is more in line with salary increases earned by county residents.

And that might be good politics in an election year.

Uploaded: 1/19/2006