Current, former officials could lose benefits Council aims to save funds, end controversy

November 08, 1995|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County lawmakers could lose retirement, health care and other fringe benefits as an indirect consequence of pension reforms approved this week.

The County Council voted 7-0 Monday to slash the retirement benefits of 66 of 100 current and former officials, save Anne Arundel taxpayers nearly $4.5 million and put a troubling controversy to rest.

Those 66 officials had benefited from a 1989 pension enhancement that County Executive John G. Gary has said amounted to a windfall. The council closed that pension plan in 1994 to new participants. The current council is enrolled in a more modest plan.

In debating vote Monday, however, the seven-member council and administration officials raised new questions about whether the council qualifies for pensions at all.

County attorneys said none of the benefits -- including large increases in retirement pay over the past 20 years -- were approved by the Salary Review Commission as required.

Aides to Mr. Gary said that in a court battle over the pension reforms, they expect lawmakers' benefits will be struck down.

"The more you think you've got it beat, the more complicated it becomes," said Council Chairwoman Diane R. Evans, an Arnold Republican.

Closing a chapter

Many had hoped that reforming the pension plan would close a troubled chapter in the county's political history.

The lucrative benefits became an issue when actuaries found a $14 million deficit in the plan in 1991.

The reforms approved by the council repeal portions of the 1989

law that contributed to the deficit. The legislation would:

* Reduce benefits for political appointees by 25 percent.

* Raise the retirement age for elected and appointed officials from age from 50 to 60.

* Slash the minimum benefit from $4,800 to $1,200 annually.

The reforms are expected to reduce the pension deficit, now estimated at $6.9 million, by $4.5 million.

Gary expected to sign

Mr. Gary is expected to sign the legislation as soon as it has been reviewed by the law office, said spokeswoman Lisa Ritter.

Council and administration officials expect a group of retirees to challenge the reforms in court.

"I guarantee you there will be a lawsuit," said County Administrator Robert Dvorak. "I can tell you they already have their attorney and are going around trying to round up the money."

Reforms 'defensible'

County Attorney Phillip Scheibe said the reforms are "defensible" and that they strip retirees only of unearned benefits.

In other action Monday, the council voted unanimously to allow churches to lease storefronts and office space.

Small but growing congregations had complained that rules limiting churches to residential areas were too restrictive.

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