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Scott Asks City Council To Approve $245,000 Salary For Department Of Public Works Head

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Emily Sullivan/WYPR
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  The Baltimore City Council held a hearing Tuesday morning to discuss Mayor Brandon Scott’s request to approve a $245,000 salary for the director of the embattled Department of Public Works, which would launch the position into the city’s top three highest-paid jobs.

The DPW director’s salary is currently set at $188,000, per city ordinance. Scottargues that the salary increase of 30% is commensurate withthe challenges of managing the city’s deteriorating water infrastructure and sewer system.

Officials told the Ways and Means Committee that cities of similar sizes to Baltimore generally divide the responsibilities the DPW head performs among several people.

“It's a very comprehensive, complex position that requires a fair amount of experience and flexibility,” Marcia Collins, the mayor’s DPW legislative liaison said.

The DPW director is tasked with overseeing duties across the department and working with three different unions. The role also has citywide fiduciary responsibilities as a member of the Board of Estimates and manages three enterprise funds.

According to a market salary study, the proposed salary is aligned with others who perform similar duties and responsibilities across the country, Quinton Herbert, the Director of the Department of Human Resources said, noting that many cities have multiple DPW heads.

“When we peel back the layers of the onion, the duties and responsibilities and [other DPW directors’] scope of work, it dwarfs the scope of work of the director of DPW for Baltimore City,” Herbert said.

The role is currently held by Matthew Garbark in an acting capacity. Garbark, formerly deputy director of the department, ascended to the role after former DPW head Rudy Chow retired last winter.

Herbert said the city has looked for candidates with experience in managing aging water infrastructure and large capital programs, and in areas with poverty rates similar rates to Baltimore’s, but that he does not have a final candidate in mind at this time.

DPW’s water system, which is owned and operated by Baltimore City but also serves Baltimore County, has experienced billing and operational problems for years.

City Inspector General Isabel Cumming and Baltimore County Inspector General Kelly Madigan issued a report in December that found thousands of broken meters led to millions in lost revenue. The department also earned some public ire last year, as Covid-19outbreaks amid its trash and recycling crewsaffected curbside service and led to trash build up. Former mayor Young halted recycling pickup altogether, citing the pandemic. Curbside recycling resumed last month.

The salary boost has already been approved by the city’s spending board, but the council must also give their formal approval, per city laws. They will vote on the salary at an upcoming council meeting.

“I'm just happy to see that we're moving in this direction,” said Councilman Ryan Dorsey, a Democrat. “We've all known for a long time that it doesn't serve the city well to have somebody who is solely experienced in water engineering as somebody who has to manage so much more than that."

Councilman Kristerfer Burnett said he doesn’t believe the proposed salary is enough to bring “the number-one DPW director in the entire country here in Baltimore.”

Burnett had proposed the council consider a bonus package for the position that would pay the director on top of their salary for resolving recurrent problems such as errant water bills. The Law Department shot his proposal down, Burnett said.

“We really need somebody who's going to think outside the box and have the experience already and be at the top of their game,” the Democrat said.

Police Commissioner Michael Harrison has the city’s highest base salary at $275,000 a year. Last year, the Board of Estimates approved a $250,000 salary in December for the newly created city administrator position, which is currently held in an acting capacity by Christopher Shorter. He is awaiting formal approval from the council.

State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby currently holds the third-highest city salary at $238,772 per year.  

 

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