County Council Likely to Recommend Against Some Salary Increases for County Employees, Teachers
Two council committees agreed Thursday to send employee unions and county back to the negotiating table
From left to right: MCGEO President Gino Renne, firefighter union President Jeff Buddle and police union President Torrie Cooke at Thursday's council hearing on salary increases
With a property tax increase looming, a majority of County Council members on Thursday recommended against some already negotiated salary increases for county government employees set to kick in next fiscal year.
If approved by the full Council on Tuesday, the recommendations would force the rare step of having the county government renegotiate portions of its contracts with the three major unions that represent its more than 9,000 employees.
The council’s Government Operations and Education committees unanimously voted not to support a 3.5 percent second step-increase for county employees, a move expected to save $2 million in the fiscal year starting in July. That step increase was designed to make up for an increase deferred during the economic downturn in 2011 and 2012.
The committees also recommended cutting a two-part cost of living increase for firefighters from 2 percent to 1 percent and urged the county’s Board of Education to consider making similar changes to the contracts of its more than 22,000 employees represented by three unions—while not prescribing specific reductions.
“In a county government where 80 percent of costs go to salaries and benefits, 90 percent for [Montgomery County Public Schools], moderating salary increases has to be part of the overall solution for finding the resources necessary for critical service improvements,” council member Nancy Navarro said at Thursday’s hearing.
As part of its budget request, the school board approved contracts that could mean an 8 percent raise next fiscal year for its employees eligible for second step-increases.
As currently negotiated, the salary increases for teachers, administrators, principals and support staff would mean $74.1 million in additional costs for the next fiscal year, a total that council members suggested should be reduced to allow funding to hire more teachers to decrease class sizes and to pay for more programming aimed at closing the achievement gap.
But that decision would be up to the Board of Education, which decides how to allocate the education funding the county provides for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS).
Chris Lloyd, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, the main county teachers’ union, wouldn’t comment Thursday on whether the union would be willing to renegotiate their scheduled salary increases.
“We are working with the council to fully fund [County Executive Ike Leggett’s] budget,” Lloyd said after the hearing.
Leggett’s $5.27 billion proposed budget includes the county’s first property tax increase since 2009, in large part to help fund the school system at almost $90 million over the minimum spending required by the state.
Leggett said his intention in requesting the property tax increase, which will likely require the unanimous consent of the nine-member council, was to provide funding so the school system could reduce class sizes and attack the achievement gap.
But some council members immediately questioned whether the school system’s requested budget was focused enough on those two goals.
A council staff report that laid out the recommendations approved Thursday pointed to low inflation numbers and the fact that Social Security beneficiaries aren’t getting a cost of living increase this year as reasons to reduce negotiated salary increases across county agencies.
The recommendations do include support for the already negotiated 1 percent cost of living increase for county government employees and police, plus the first-step increase that will raise those salaries by another 3.5 percent next fiscal year.
Gino Renne, leader of MCGEO, the main county employees’ union, told council members that while his members share their concerns about the school system, they should consider that quality of life in the county is also impacted by other government services that his members are responsible for.
Renne also pointed to a recent five-year period during the Great Recession and its aftermath in which county employees didn’t see raises.
“I think you could conclude that this workforce has stepped up,” Renne said, to applause from some of his members in the audience at the Council Hearing Room in Rockville.
Despite the unions’ opposition to reducing salary increases, the dialogue between the seven county union leaders and council members rarely turned confrontational.
Council President Nancy Floreen thanked the union leaders for “speaking with us in really helpful and problem-solving tones.”