Bob Culver: Contractal lawyer saves money

One of my goals as County Executive has been to run Wicomico County more like a business. I promised to review how we are doing business in the county and make some changes that make good economic sense.

For example, let’s look at our Legal Department. Having the best legal advice is critical to ensuring that everything we do complies with the law and is fair and responsible.

For decades, the county relied on one attorney, who worked as a contractor and billed the county for the number of hours he worked on county business.

Shortly after our first County Executive was elected in 2006, he decided to create a Department of Law, inside the government office building where the county attorney was hired as a county employee. That office grew into three full-time attorneys and two full-time staff members by the time I took office.

Shortly before I was elected County Executive, then County Attorney Ed Baker announced he was planning to retire.  

As we searched for Mr. Baker’s replacement, we also sought ways to save money. The growing cost of salaries and benefits in that department was getting expensive. In 2015, the county spent $430,542 on the Legal Department ($302,977 in salaries and $127,565 in benefits).

So we looked for a better way.

Last October, we hired Paul Wilber, a local, well-respected and experienced attorney to head our Legal Department on a contractual basis. Under his contract, Wilber pays for all support staff and benefits for his staff and only bills the county an hourly fee. Thus the county is not responsible for the health care, retirement or any other long range benefits for Wilber or his staff.

Our attorney’s bills are averaging $23,000 per month, resulting in a net savings of about $154,000 for the county this year. In addition, we moved the office of the Local Management Board into the old Legal Department office space and saved outside rent of $30,000 a year.

Nothing has changed in our response time to department heads, quality of legal representation and accessibility to our lawyer. The only thing that’s changed is the cost to the county for the services and that his office is now across the street and not in the building.

I look at this as a good thing. Any time you can enjoy a service with the same results and expertise as before but save over $184,000, I think they call that a win-win situation.

Bob Culver is the Wicomico County Executive.

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