Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Sykesville pay raises questioned

Councilmen concerned about salary increase for town manager, police chief

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Sykesville Mayor Jonathan Herman considers the $24,090 the town spent last month to keep Town Manager Matt Candland and Police Chief John R. Williams Jr. a bargain.

‘‘My perspective is if I do nothing, I lose both Matt and the chief,” Herman said.

Candland was looking for another job, and could have taken a job as a Rockville zoning administrator for $120,000 to $140,000, Herman said.

Williams was also considering a position that pays a ‘‘significantly higher salary,” Candland said, but he declined to provide the figure or location.

‘‘They’re being recruited all the time,” Herman said. ‘‘And they discuss it openly and tell us all the time.”

However, Councilmen Leo Keenan and Scott Sanzone said they wonder why Candland and Williams received what they consider hefty raises and an 18-month severance clause.

Herman and council members Debby Ellis, Eugene Johnson Sr. and Jeannie Nichols voted 4-0 Dec. 10 to give Candland a $12,709 raise, making his salary $86,000 per year. Williams received an $11,381 raise, taking his salary to $80,000.

Keenan abstained, and Councilman Frank Robert and Sanzone were absent. Keenan could not be reached by The Gazette’s Wednesday press time for comment about why he abstained.

The vote on the raises came during an open session that occurred after the council’s closed session that night, when the public was not there, and the item was not listed on the agenda.

Candland and Williams will be granted 18 months of severance pay if they are fired without cause, Herman said. The previous severance was six months.

Candland and Williams last received 3 percent cost-of-living raises this fiscal year, as did all town employees, Candland said.

Candland’s raise was $2,134.77 and Williams’ raise was $1,998.60, Candland said.

Keenan questioned the decision. ‘‘My concern with that was the mayor and town manager have been telling people for at least six of the last eight years that we have a very tight budget, and we’re looking at tax increases,” he said.

Herman, however, considers it a smart investment. The town pays its employees less than what competing towns do because Sykesville does not have enough money, Herman said.

He added that Candland has saved the town hundreds of thousands of dollars, and Williams has transformed the Sykesville Police Department.

The $24,090 for the pay increases will come out of nearly $43,000 town staff recently found in the budget: $25,000 from development inspection fees, $7,192 from the sale of bricks at Millennium Fountain; and $10,643 from interest earned on money from the Sykesville Road⁄Springfield Avenue intersection project.

The remainder of the money will be transferred into the general fund, but Herman said he is unsure if that money will be used beyond this year to pay for the increases, and town officials have not identified where money will come from to sustain the increases.

The fact that town staff found $43,000 half way through the fiscal year concerns Keenan. ‘‘I don’t know why this money was just put aside, and not into the general fund,” he said.

Herman knew the town would receive money for the interest from the intersection project, he said, but was not sure how much it would be.

Development inspector fees were received on various projects throughout town and was to pay for a developer inspector, Herman said. Candland took over that role, Herman added, and he never received more pay for doing so.

Treasurer Irma Bast discovered the brick sale money while going through the town’s bank account records, he added.

Herman said if the town were to hire a new police chief and town manager, potential employees would want salaries comparable to what they left for, and the process to find a new manager and chief are expensive.

A committee is reviewing current salaries and benefits and comparing them to competing jurisdictions to address town employee salaries and benefits, and will recommend adjustments and how to fund any increases to the mayor and Town Council, Candland said.

Candland, Williams, Public Works Director Ron Esworthy, Ellis and Keenan are on the committee, which began its duties in January. Keenan is the chairman.