The Montgomery County Council on Monday is set to debate for the first time a trio of polarizing contract agreements that would give thousands of union employees double-digit pay raises over two years.
The three agreements would give raises to most unionized county workers, firefighters and police officers, and would cost the county an estimated $105.3 million over two years. The unions struck the deals with County Executive Ike Leggett after months of bargaining.
The largest pay raises would go to firefighters, about half of whom would receive a 19.5 percent pay raise over two years. County government workers would receive 13.5 percent raises over two years, and police would get 14.7 percent over two years.
|» More than half of Montgomery County's 1,000-person firefighter union would receive a 19.5 percent raise, while other members would receive less, based on experience. The contract is estimated to cost $4.9 million in fiscal 2014.|
|» Members of the 5,000-member county workers union, MCGEO, would see a 13.5 percent raise expected to cost the county $11.3 million in 2014.|
|» The 1,100 members of the police union would get a 14.7 percent raise, costing the county about $4.6 million in 2014.|
Residents and advocacy groups are criticizing the deals. Some are federal and private-sector workers who say they haven't received raises in years but would be forced to endure more taxes to pay for raises for county workers.
"The proposed increases are excessive, given the state of the economy," Bethesda resident Marshall Zinn wrote. "I'm sorry they have not had pay increases in several years, but neither has the private sector."
Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville, chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee and a candidate for county executive, adamantly opposes the union contracts, saying they are too expensive.
He has proposed cutting some of them back -- specifically, the pay raises for firefighters -- and giving county residents a break on energy taxes instead.
But the rest of the council has remained mostly quiet about the contracts.
Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, D-at large, initially questioned how Leggett planned to pay for the raises, since the county already was facing a $135 million budget gap, but hasn't raised the issue again. Others, such as Councilman Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda, said he won't comment on the contracts until the council's Government Operations Committee considers them on Monday.
"I haven't seen the analysis that would offer me any alternative [to the contracts]," Berliner said.
County spokesman Patrick Lacefield has said repeatedly that the employees deserve the contracts, citing the four-year freeze on employee salaries and the $268 million that the county saved during those lean years.
Union representatives echoed those sentiments. Now that the economy is stabilizing, they say, employees should reap some of the benefits.
But the county's taxpayers aren't so keen on forking over millions of dollars, especially since they too have been hit by the weak economy.
Chevy Chase resident Arthur Salzberg wrote to the council, saying he felt that the citizens of Montgomery County -- some of whom have not received raises in years and some of whom are federal workers facing furloughs -- are being oppressed by the county's "overfunded" unions.
"Unfortunately, it has become obvious to many that you continue to oppress and hurt most county homeowners to fund oversized pay and benefit packages extracted by well-organized and bullying county public unions whom you fear more," he said.
He's not alone: Olney resident Wesley Wisner said he is a federal worker who has not received a raise in more than three years. He said he "has had it" with the county's spending.
"You're raising taxes on people not making any more money. This is crazy," he said. "You are taking a larger percent of our income every year and you are congratulating yourselves."