More than 400 Baltimore County employees -- nearly half those eligible -- took advantage of an early retirement program designed to save money by paring as many long-term, highly paid workers as possible.
The retirement program that ended Jan. 31 was accepted by 5 percent of the county's work force of 8,000 -- or 403 of the 875 people eligible -- leaving some gaping holes in the bureaucracy, said James R. Gibson Jr., the finance director.
Among those leaving were the engineer in charge of inspecting buildings and bridges, half the majors on the police force, 94 police officers, 87 firefighters, one-third the fire chiefs, a host of highway workers and 24 public health nurses, including 12 school nurses.
The program offered a 5 percent salary bonus, immediate full pension benefits and a lifetime guarantee of paying no more than a 10 percent share of health insurance costs to anyone willing to retire by Jan. 31.
To be eligible, workers at least 50 years old must have worked at least 20 years for the county, and those younger must have had at least 25 years of service. Ordinarily, workers must be either 60 years old or have at least 30 years of service to retire on full pension.
Some key jobs left vacant will be filled, said County Executive Roger B. Hayden, although no decisions have been made. Department heads, meanwhile, are struggling to reorganize and cope with the vacancies.
Gene L. Neff, the public works chief, is hoping for divine intervention. With 53 vacant jobs cut from his budget last spring and 42 more people taking early retirement, he's praying winter ends with no heavy snowfalls.
"We're very thin right now," said Mr. Neff, whose agency took the biggest single hit, with 102 people gone.