County Council to weigh legislation addressing troubled pension fund

September 08, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

The County Council will consider four bills tonight sponsored by Councilwoman Maureen Lamb dealing with the financially troubled pension fund for appointed and elected officials.

Perhaps the most controversial would allow most of the 17 present and former county workers mistakenly included in the generous pension plan to keep their benefits.

The legislation addresses a legal opinion issued by the county attorney that holds the employees are not "appointed officials" as defined by state law and therefore were never entitled to the plan's more generous benefits. Those employees should be stricken from the plan, the opinion said, and the county should investigate the possibility of recouping benefits already paid out to them.

The Appointed and Elected Officials plan was created in 1973, and was modified by the County Council in 1989 to increase benefits to appointed officials and lower the retirement age to 50.

Those changes, along with the hiring of numerous former state employees who were able to transfer service credits into the plan without bringing any assets, contributed to a financial liability that reached as high as $14 million, according to the county's actuary.

Ms. Lamb has said she introduced the bill because it would be unfair to take pension benefits away from the employees, as long as they have worked for the county for at least six months. Even though they are not technically "officials," Ms. Lamb holds that it was the intention of the council, when the pension fund was created, to include the employees.

The 17 employees were included in the more lucrative plan because they were part of the executive or exempt employees pay plan. Ms. Lamb's bill would define an appointed official as someone who is part of the exempt pay plan.

Ms. Lamb introduced a second bill that would prevent the county from collecting any pension benefits that have already been paid out to the seven retirees who were erroneously included in the plan.

A third bill sponsored by Ms. Lamb requires that when a county employee transfers from one pension plan to another -- for example, from the Employees' Retirement Plan to the Appointed and Elected Officials plan -- that employees' assets must also transfer from one plan to the other.

If this bill passes, the county auditor's office estimates that about $1.4 million will move from the employees' pension fund to the officials' fund.

A fourth bill introduced by Ms. Lamb would add council members' legislative assistants to the revamped pension plan for elected and appointed officials. The new plan deducts money from an official's salary and adds a county match, as opposed to granting a pension benefit based on years of service, making it impossible for a liability to accrue. The legislative assistants were inadvertently left out of the plan when it was created, Ms. Lamb said.

Finally, an amended bill sponsored by Ms. Lamb that would require the licensing of cats will be up for a public hearing. David G. Boschert, a Crownsville Democrat, will introduce an amendment that would remove all fee increases from the bill. The bill proposes increasing the fee for unspayed or unneutered dogs or cats from $10 to $30, and from $4 to $8 for pet owners who are senior citizens or handicapped.

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

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