UPPER MARLBORO – The Prince George’s County Council unanimously voted on March 20 to accept all the Compensation Review Board’s recommendations except the suggested one-time pay increase for county council members of $10,000 per annum to offset the loss of their automobile allowance. The approved recommendations include offering slightly higher salaries for the chair and vice-chair of the county council and adjusting the county council and county executive salaries based on cost-of-living changes.
Prince George’s County council members are offered to use take-home vehicles, a rare benefit in the Washington, D.C. region, or receive an automobile allowance of more than $10,000.
All of the nine council members sponsored the legislation, which was introduced on Feb. 20.
The council collectively voted “aye” without discussion.
The bill now goes to County Executive Rushern Baker, III, whose signature is required for it to become law. The bill also increased the county contribution to council members’ retirement plans from 5 percent to 10 percent.
According to the county charter, a compensation review board “shall be appointed by the council and the county executive” by Dec. 15 of the last year of each term “to study the rate of current compensation for the council and the county executive and make a recommendation regarding the amount of compensation.”
The 2017-2018 Prince George’s County Compensation Review Board presented their recommendations to the council in January.
The board recommended that county council members receive a one-time salary adjustment of $10,000 per annum to be received in December 2018 to offset the loss of the automobile allowance, “provided the county council enacts legislation in Legislative Year 2018 to repeal the benefit for council members.”
No council members currently use county take-home vehicles. Every member but Councilman Mel Franklin receives for the yearly allowance.
In September, the Vehicle Use Review Board advised the county government to cease offering take-home vehicles to officials – including county council members – except for certain public safety and Department of Public Works and Transportation positions. The board also recommended removing the automobile allowance of more than $10,000.
A 2017 Washington Post investigation discovered the Prince George’s County government spent more than $110,00 a year on automobile allowances and take-home cars for the county officials. The Post further reported that between 2011 and 2016, council members driving take-home cars were involved in at least 15 collisions and 107 speeding, missed-toll and parking citations.
Councilwoman Karen Toles briefly lost her take-home car privileges after she was ticketed in 2012 for driving more than 100 miles per hour on I-495.
The council members were at fault in at least eight of the 15 accidents.
Police arrested Councilman Mel Franklin in November 2016 on driving under the influence (DUI) charges after he crashed his county-owned vehicle into another car in Upper Marlboro. He had a blood-alcohol-content of 0.10. The county vehicle sustained significant damage and two occupants of the other car were hospitalized.
Franklin pleaded guilty to the DUI in May 2017.
“I am deeply sorry to Mr. and Mrs. Collins (the occupants of the vehicle he crashed into) and take full responsibility for the November 2016 car accident,” Franklin said in May. “That evening, I let down both Mr. and Mrs. Collins and all of the residents who look at me for leadership and responsibility. I must now begin the hard and necessary work of earning back their trust and forgiveness.”
The county reviewed its vehicle policy as a result of the incident.
Franklin had been involved in two previous collisions in county-owned vehicles.
Proponents of the one-time salary increase for the county council members argued it would close the gap between the salaries of the council members in Prince George’s County and other nearby jurisdictions.
“We agree with the board’s findings regarding a salary gap between the Prince George’s County Council and its counterparts in comparable jurisdictions, as well as significant disparity in compensation levels with the county executives,” said County Council Chair Danielle Glaros. “These are matters for continuing policy discussion.”
In 2017, Prince George’s County council members made $120,347. In the same year, council members in D.C. made $137,144; in Montgomery County made $136,258; in Baltimore City made $68,000; in Baltimore County made $62,500; and in Fairfax County made $95,000.
The board also recommended that the salaries for the county council members and the county executive be adjusted by the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U).
The CPI-U measures changes in cost-of-living expenses.
The Compensation Review Board recommended the chair of the county council receive 5 percent per year more than the other county council members during their term as chair, and the vice-chair receive 2.5 percent more.
The board did not suggest an increase in the county executive’s pay.
In 2017, County Executive of Prince George’s made $212,998, compared to the $195,750 made by Montgomery County’s County Executive. In the same year, the mayor of D.C. made $200,000.
The Compensation Review Board voted unanimously, 7-0, on all these issues.
“We are thankful for their dedication to this effort,” Glaros said.
The Compensation Review Board also noted the Federal Government mileage rate of 53.5 cents per mile is used by certain neighboring jurisdictions, while Prince George’s current reimbursement is 36 cents per mile.
The Vehicle Use Review Board had previously recommended the county change its current mileage reimbursement rate of 36 cents to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Standard mileage Rates for Business, Medical and Moving. The 2018 IRS reimbursement rate is 54.5 cents per mile.
Glaros said the “long-overdue increase” to the county’s mileage reimbursement for government travel will be considered during the Fiscal year 2019 Budget Review process.
This article was updated to include information regarding the bill’s proposed impact on county council member’s retirement plans.