Troubled pension plan compares poorly Baltimore, Montgomery County don't have fund problems

September 14, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County's financially troubled pension plan for elected and appointed officials, which has come under fire recently for its generous benefits, is one of only three such funds among Maryland's larger subdivisions.

The other two, in Montgomery County and Baltimore, have separate plans for elected officials, but neither includes political appointees as Arundel does.

Moreover, Montgomery County's elected officials plan is so unattractive that it has only one member. And while the plan in Baltimore is more generous than the one in Anne Arundel County, it is in great financial shape, according to Tom Taneyhill, deputy administrator for the Baltimore Retirement Systems.

The other major subdivisions include elected officials in their general employee plans, a move Anne Arundel County officials are likely to make when County Executive Robert R. Neall submits a measure next week to correct problems with the fund.

The state of Maryland closed a fund for its elected officials in 1980, but many former officials still are drawing from it.

Anne Arundel's elected and appointed officials system came under fire after an actuarial audit in January revealed that the fund had only half the assets it needed to cover the liabilities it had accrued. The county's other pension plans, for county employees, police and firefighters, and detention center employees, all were funded at 100 percent or more.

The elected and appointed officials fund was damaged by the generous benefits it offered -- retirement at age 50 with 16 years of service at up to 70 percent of salary -- and by the influx of ## state officials who legally transferred their years of service to the county system without bringing the assets from their state pension with them.

The retirement age was raised and benefits reduced under recent legislation, but the pension fund still is in trouble.

The pension plans in Baltimore and Montgomery County don't have the problems that Anne Arundel's has.

Montgomery County's less than stellar plan allows elected officials to contribute up to 3 percent of their yearly earnings, then get back that money without interest when they retire, assuming they served for more than four years.

"At the moment, there is only one council person in it," said William Garrett, director of Montgomery County's pension system.

The rest of the elected officials join the general pension fund when they qualify for it after four years, which usually means after they've been re-elected, Mr. Garrett said.

Under the Baltimore system, which is limited to the mayor, the comptroller, and the president and members of the city council, officials can collect a pension at age 50 with 12 years of service, or at any age with 16 years of service.

Their benefit is set at 2 1/2 percent for each year of service, the same level offered to Anne Arundel County appointed officials under changes made in 1989 that were rescinded in June.

But even with such generous benefits, the 10-year-old Baltimore fund is in great shape. As of June 30, 1992, the date of the latest actuarial accounting, the fund's ratio of assets to accrued liabilities, or employee benefits, was 98.7 percent, which practically makes it a fully funded pension.

"We don't have any problem with funding," Mr. Taneyhill said. "It's doing fine."

It also is much smaller than Anne Arundel's fund, with only 21 active members and five retirees.

Anne Arundel County's system, which had only 57 percent of the assets it needed in January 1992 and has not significantly improved since, contains 52 members who are retired or no longer work for the county and thus no longer contribute, and 40 active members.

An additional difference, Mr. Taneyhill said, is the lack of turnover in the Baltimore plan.

"It's been a fairly stable plan," Mr. Taneyhill said. "If there was a large turnover and a whole bunch of new members came into the plan with a lot of years of service, it's possible" that the pension could run into problems.

"But it depends on who leaves, their age, their years of service, how close they are to retirement," he said.

Mr. Garrett, of Montgomery County, who said he had heard of Anne Arundel's pension problems, insisted that such generous benefits for public officials would never be accepted there.

"It's very open, and as a matter of things being open here in Montgomery County, there's always someone looking over your shoulder," Mr. Garrett said. "That would never happen here."

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