George Leventhal Takes Aim at Salaries of Top County Government Officials

George Leventhal Takes Aim at Salaries of Top County Government Officials

County Council president pointed to report released Tuesday as evidence that some are being paid more than they should be

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County Council President George Leventhal

Aaron Kraut

County Council President George Leventhal on Tuesday again argued that high-ranking county government officials are paid too much, this time backed by a report showing those officials are among the highest paid in the country.

The council’s Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) compared the annual salaries of the county’s 27 agency and department directors to the salaries of directors in the federal government, in 10 other jurisdictions in the Washington-Baltimore region and other similar “high-cost” jurisdictions around the country such as Westchester County in New York and Orange County near Los Angeles.

OLO said Montgomery County’s average director salary of $206,685 was the third highest of the bunch and 15.6 percent higher than the combined average for the rest of the jurisdictions.

“I don’t want to make more of this than it is, but I do believe it is appropriate for us, as the oversight body, to ask whether the compensation we are providing is appropriate and necessary to attract the very best and brightest talent,” Leventhal said.

Shortly after the report was released, County Executive Ike Leggett released a statement defending the county’s hiring practices and disputing some of the findings.

“In one example, we are told that Montgomery County’s 27 directors individually earn more on average than 39 directors in Fairfax County and 54 in the District of Columbia. But this means our 27 directors, given more scope in our County, are able to do the work of 39 and 54, respectively, in the other two jurisdictions,” read Leggett’s written response. “Add up what we spend on our management team versus the total of what they spend on their larger teams and Montgomery County spends less overall on top management than either of the others–not more."

It’s not the first time Leventhal has brought up concerns with how much some county government employees are being paid. It’s also likely not the last time the four-term council member will tangle with the executive branch on the issue before his one-year term as council president ends this year.

At his regular weekly press conference Monday, Leventhal said “I suspect that our county has drifted into paying more than we need to to attract the very best talent,” and that recent hiring decisions spurred his suspicions.

He declined to specify which hires got his attention, saying “I don’t want to embarrass anyone in particular.” In May, Leggett appointed Robert Green to head the county’s Correction and Rehabilitation department and made Acting Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service Chief Scott Goldstein the permanent chief.

Leventhal’s criticism also comes against the backdrop of a potential property tax increase starting next fiscal year.

Throughout 2015, Leggett has publicly stated he’s considering a proposal to increase the property tax to keep pace with county expenses. Leggett has said the increase could be necessary in the face of lower-than-expected tax revenue and tax money the county will have to pay back after the state lost the Wynne case in the Supreme Court earlier this year.

“I do not want to vote for a tax increase just to maintain the status quo,” said Leventhal, who said the OLO examination of salaries was one part of what he intends to be a broader discussion of “government cost-drivers,” before Leggett releases his proposed fiscal year 2017 budget early next year.

The full council is expected to hold a discussion on the cost of government on Nov. 17.

“We hire experienced managers and directors and, by and large, we keep them,” Leggett said in his prepared response. “That means less turnover, which saves the taxpayers money. And, of course, veteran directors will earn higher salaries than new hires over time. That is the approach the county has taken for many years, long before I became county executive and it is an approach that has been supported by successive county councils.”

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