Montgomery County’s firefighters, as in 2017, were among the highest compensated employees in 2018, with 13 members of the Fire and Rescue Service finishing among the top 20 highest-paid employees in the county.

Several made more than $200,000 due to overtime pay, which for some was larger than their base salary.

As was the case last year in 2017, Chief Administrative Officer Tim Firestine’s $300,000-plus salary put him at the top of the list.

Firestine, a county employee since 1979, served under former County Executive Isiah Leggett for 12 years, before retiring last year with the swearing in of County Executive Marc Elrich.

Two county employees in the top 20 were women — Health and Human Services Director Uma Ahluwalia, who retired in November, and Director of Intergovernmental Relations Melanie Wenger, who had the 15th and 20th highest salaries respectively. Three women made the list in 2017 and in 2016.

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Since taking office, Elrich has hired several new department heads and cut the salaries for those positions as part of his broader effort to hold government accountable and save dollars. So far, the base salaries for Elrich’s top-level appointees have been $10,000 to $20,000 lower than that of their predecessors under Leggett.

Elrich has said that he doesn’t believe members of his administration should be paid more than a United States cabinet official, which is typically $210,700.

Elrich’s his budget proposal for the next fiscal year includes raises for members of the county’s main government employee union, MCGEO, which total more than 9 percent for about 2,000 employees. The salary hikes came out of labor negotiations and represent a combination of deferred service increments for county employees who were due to receive raises in previous fiscal years following the 2008 recession, but were not funded by the County Council. Labor-negotiated salary hikes are subject to approval by the County Council.

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County Budget Director Rich Madaleno said 60 additional firefighters would be added to the county’s force by July, which would likely offset some of the overtime costs. The firefighters, he said, would be filling vacant positions that were created during poor economic times following the 2008 recession.

“To be clear, they’re not new positions, but there are 60 positions that have been vacant that will be filled because they have these recruits,” he said.

Salary data is posted on the county’s public database on employee salaries for calendar year 2018. The data does not include other county agencies such as the school system, Montgomery College or the county’s Park and Planning Commission.

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Elrich has yet to appoint an HHS director, and it is one of three positions that will be filled from a national search that an outside recruiting firm is conducting. Elrich must also appoint a permanent replacement for Police Chief Tom Manger, who retired this month.

More than $902 million has been budgeted for salaries and wages in Elrich’s fiscal 2020 budget, said county spokesman Ohene Gyapong, which totals $5.7 billion. There are 9,645 full-time positions in county government, as well as 973 part-time employees, although Gyapong emphasized that that refers to the number of funded positions, and not all are necessarily filled.

Gross pay can differ from base salary for reasons other than overtime pay, such as raises for  a pay upgrade, according to Gyapong. Additionally, police officers and firefighters receive an allowance for clothing and equipment, he said. Employees may also receive merit awards, miscellaneous awards and lump sum payments, which can include performance pay or a union-negotiated amount.

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