In a move designed to gird Baltimore County's government against layoffs, the County Council last night approved a plan to nudge 150 or more employees into early retirement. Officials hope to shrink the payroll by $5 mil Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III said of the plan, which was approved unanimously by the council.
Council Chairman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, praised the administration for seeking the retirement incentives instead of waiting for possible layoffs. "This appears to be a fairly compassionate effort," he said as he prepared to vote. "This is the right direction to move in."
Before the meeting, Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, said he wants the incentive plan to prevent layoffs. "It better," he said. "Employee morale is bad enough as it is."
In amendments approved before the final vote, the Ruppersberger administration added nearly 70 more jobs to the 350 eligible for incentives, added a provision to allow workers who qualify to leave as early as Jan. 1, and to include several people just shy of the 20 years service required for eligibility.
The administration has been working to dampen speculation among county workers that listed jobs would be targeted if layoffs later become necessary. That rumor is false, Mr. Ruppersberger said yesterday. "It doesn't mean because you're on our list that you're going to go," he said.
Edward M. Pedrick Jr., president of Local 921 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the administration has done a good job in calming most fears. "They did a little damage control," holding meetings with employees to explain the plan to them, he said.
Budget Director Fred Homan said if too many people in the same or similar job categories sign up to retire, the county may have to hire to replace them.
"It's going to be fluid," he said, noting that employees will have from Jan. 1 to Feb. 23 to sign up. By then, he said, the county will have received two more income tax revenue reports and the picture for the next budget year should be clearer.
The council has had complaints from employees who are not eligible for the benefits. Under the plan, workers who have at least 19 years 8 months service, or who are at least 60 with five years service, are eligible if their job classification is on the list.
The idea of targeting certain job categories, county officials say, is to control which jobs become vacant and to avoid losing employees in vital jobs.
The county offered a general early retirement incentive in 1992, and laid off more than 300 people from the 7,000-person work force in February 1993.
The plan does not affect the 12,000 school system employees.
The three incentives are:
* A 5 percent bonus to workers' base pay, which is used to calculate pensions. That could mean $1,000 more annually for a worker with 27 years service earning $40,000 a year.
* Continuing full medical insurance for retirees with fewer than 30 years of service. Normally, only those with 30 years service get full medical coverage.
* Giving credit for unused sick leave, a move that would lengthen workers' careers and raise their pensions as much as 3 percent.