County weighs pension rollback

March 21, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

In January, the County Council fixed a financially troubled pension plan for elected and appointed officials by reducing benefits that were increased in 1989.

Now, the council must decide whether to roll back those lucrative benefits.

The council is considering one bill that would reduce pensions of officials who have retired and another that would make them pay back their higher benefits with interest. Meanwhile, the county's Pensions Oversight Commission wants to decrease the benefits of five former and current county officials it believes were responsible for the 1989 law.

"We think they're the ones who had the obligation to know the effects of what was being proposed," Chairwoman Deborah G. Turner said during a commission meeting Thursday night.

The commission included on its list Adrian G. Teel, former chief administrative officer; Marita B. Brown, former budget officer; Joseph N. Burrows, former controller; Richard Mayer, former personnel director; and Joseph H. Novotny, county auditor.

The 1989 law lowered the retirement age for both appointed and elected officials, increased pensions by 20 percent for appointed officials and raised the minimum annual pension to $4,800 a year for both. As a result of the changes, the pension fund is short by about $14 million.

The move to recoup the county's losses began after Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said in December that the county has the power to retroactively repeal pension benefits.

Of the three alternatives, a bill sponsored by Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, an Annapolis Democrat, is the harshest. It would require retired officials now collecting the increased benefits to pay them back with interest.

The Pension Oversight Commission has recommended that Ms. Lamb's bill be rejected, fearing that it would not survive a court zTC test. Ms. Lamb has said she agrees, but hasn't decided what to do with her bill.

A measure proposed by Councilwoman Diane Evans, R-Arnold, would roll back pension benefits for all appointed officials to pre-1989 levels. Retirees already collecting benefits would not have to repay them, but would have their pensions reduced.

In addition, the bill would suspend pension payments to many elected and appointed officials younger than 60. Elected officials with 16 years' service and appointed officials who retired after the 1989 bill was adopted but before a 1991 bill raised the retirement age back to 60 could continue to collect their pensions.

Finally, the bill allows retirees the option of taking a full pension, which would end upon death, or taking a reduced pension to provide some benefits for survivors.

The council has scheduled a public hearing tonight on the bill.

The oversight commission suggested dividing the pension plan participants into four categories: those serving when the 1989 bill was adopted, those who already were retired, those who have retired since 1989 and those who joined the county before 1989 and still are working.

Only those who retired after the 1989 bill was adopted would continue to receive full benefits under the commission's plan.

Two commission members -- Dennis P. Howell, representing the county's police officers, and Richard C. Gorzo, of the county firefighters -- voted against rolling back benefits, fearing that such action would set a precedent for reducing pensions.

The council meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. in the council chambers at the Arundel Center in Annapolis.

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