A panel of Montgomery County Council members indicated on Monday that they support a plan to give thousands of unionized county employees double-digit pay raises over the next two years.

After months of bargaining with County Executive Ike Leggett, the unions -- whose members haven't received raises in several years, although they received $2,000 payments in the current fiscal year -- struck a deal that would give about half of the county's paid firefighters a 19.5 percent pay raise over two years, county government workers a 13.5 percent raise over two years and police a 14.7 percent raise over two years.

The raises would cost the county $20.8 million in the upcoming fiscal year as it faces a $135 million budget shortfall, not including the pay increases.

The Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee is scheduled to vote on the union contracts Thursday.

"While things are tight, I feel that we are on a sustainable path," said Councilman Hans Riemer, D-at large. "We can, I believe, afford contracts of this scope."

Salary information collected by county staff shows Montgomery County workers make less than their counterparts in the federal government and private sector.

County officials attributed the lack of raises in past years to the recent recession.

"Nothing compares to what we had in the last four years, and that's not surprising because the Great Recession was the biggest downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s," said Council Staff Director Stephen Farber.

Farber acknowledged that many county residents weren't pleased by the idea of handing out big raises to public employees, with many flooding county inboxes with emails against them.

The raises also are opposed by two of the largest chambers of commerce in the county -- the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Greater Silver Spring chambers.

The Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber's vice president noted that many of its members have imposed wage and benefit freezes.

"Thousands of Montgomery County residents who are federal employees face furloughs of up to four weeks, and many private sector workers are seeing modest if any pay increases," Julie Statland, chairwoman of the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce, wrote in April 11 testimony to the council.