Upper Marlboro’s elected leaders will get a raise effective July 1 — doubling the annual salary for commissioners and quadrupling the commission president’s salary — in hopes of increasing residents’ interest in running for office.
The town’s three commissioners voted unanimously Monday to increase the base commissioner salary to $1,200 per year, up from $600 per year, and the commission president’s salary to $15,000 per year, up from $3,600 per year.
“This is an experiment,” said Stephen Sonnett, commission president. “We are looking for empirical data.”
This experiment means changes could be made in the future if increasing the salary does or does not work as expected, said Joe Hourclé, town commissioner.
The town commissioners, Sonnett, Hourclé and Jim Storey, have expressed concern about the low number of residents running in the town’s next election, Jan. 6, and in previous elections. The filing deadline for the Jan. 6 election was Dec. 9, but voters can submit write-in candidates on their ballots, Hourclé said.
Three candidates have registered, both Sonnett and Storey are returning, but Hourclé is bowing out. The third and final candidate is Larissa A. Ferrer, according to town election records. This means the town commissioners are running unopposed unless a write-in candidate wins, Hourclé said. Upper Marlboro has about 631 people, according to the 2010 Census.
“This is about getting someone who is qualified and willing to spend the time,” Storey said.
Initially, the commissioners proposed increasing the commissioner president’s salary to $30,000 per year if the president decided to run the town instead of hiring a town administrator to manage town business.
Hourclé said having that conditional pay meant the president’s salary could change during his term, so the president’s annual pay was then decreased to $15,000 and now there is no condition where the president will not receive the increase.
George Leonnig, former town commissioner, said the non-conditional salary concerned him because it meant a commission president could decide to hire a town administrator and pocket the $15,000 instead of running the town. If the current commissioners want to get more residents involved in elections after they step down they should just step aside and candidates will have to show up, Leonnig said.
“You can’t throw money at this problem,” Leonnig said. “I don’t think that’s the way to solve this.”
Joe Plenzler of Upper Marlboro disagreed, saying the higher salaries will encourage more residents to participate in running the town. The president position can be a 40-hour per week job, making pay lower than minimum wage, but it might allow someone to apply who previously couldn’t afford to take the job, he said.
“If we raise the rate of pay of the president, we make the town more democratic,” Plenzler said. “It offers the opportunity to allow others in the town to participate.”