Low response predicted on early retirement offer Plan saves little money, county councilman says

January 03, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

Howard County Councilman Charles C. Feaga predicted yesterday that less than 30 of 197 targeted county government workers will take an early retirement offer -- a total that will not give the county the savings in salaries and benefits it seeks.

"The total dollars it will save over the long haul is not very much," Mr. Feaga said of the plan that officially was presented to the council last night.

County personnel specialists have said Howard eventually would save $1.3 million a year in salaries and benefits if about 50 workers took the offer.

The budget for this fiscal year totals about $329 million, more than half of which pays for schools.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker plans to trim nonschool spending -- the part of the budget he controls -- by 12 percent over the next 30 months. Mr. Ecker told county workers about the retirement offer just before Christmas.

Mr. Feaga, a Republican from the west county, suggested that the county freeze all pay increases for the next year. He said layoffs still are a possibility to get to the 12 percent cut in spending.

As for the early retirement program, Mr. Feaga said he would not sweeten retirement incentives to attract more workers. And Council Chairman Darrel E. Drown, a Republican who represents Ellicott City and the north county, essentially agreed.

"We may be able to tweak it a little," he said. "But you cannot give away the store either."

Details of the early retirement plan -- offered to 103 police officers and firefighters and 94 other workers -- are different for different workers. Among the incentives are a one-time bonus of 20 percent of a worker's annual salary and payments to workers TC younger than 62 to compensate for lost Social Security benefits.

A public hearing on the plan is scheduled for Jan. 16. The council is to vote on the plan Feb. 5.

Mr. Feaga said the police officers and firefighters who take the buyout will be replaced. The county will save money by hiring officers with initially lower salaries.

But Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung is worried that if too many police officers and firefighters take the buyout, it could cause disruption because those positions require training and replacements cannot be hired as quickly as at other agencies.

The buyout plan is similar to one offered Charlotte, N.C., employees several years ago. Of the 340 people eligible, about 150 took the buyout, said David Cooke, who helped administer the program.

Mr. Feaga again said the school system should join in cost-cutting efforts since it constitutes 59 percent of all county spending.

The school system proposed yesterday an additional $6.6 million in funding from the county and a $340,000 cut in its administrative budget category.

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