Report endorses pension changes Oversight panel backs most proposals pressed by Gary

September 04, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

As County Executive John G. Gary's bill to overhaul the county's $750 million retirement system expired last night, Anne Arundel's Pension Oversight Commission issued a long awaited report that endorsed most of the changes included in the 43-page reform measure.

Administration officials have estimated that pension reform would save Anne Arundel more than $6 million annually in future years.

But the commission, appointed by the county executive from labor unions and the public at large, seemed split over the most debated issue of the administration's months-long effort to pass pension reform: whether to eliminate the guarantee of a cost-of-living raise for retired workers.

The commission says "it is very bad public policy for the county to break its promises" by eliminating guaranteed cost-of-living raises that are tied to inflation. Yet, later in the report the panel suggests reducing retirement benefits for current employees, a drastic step even the administration bill does not propose to take.

The council delayed a final vote on the pension bill to wait for the commission's report.

"The report is somewhat confusing," said a Gary spokeswoman. "It appears it both supports and finds fault with the program in numerous areas, while not offering alternative proposals."

The report, presented last night to the County Council, approved in general terms the bill's key provisions -- the creation of a less-generous retirement plan for new employees, establishment of a board of trustees to supervise pension fund investments, and the the merger of a financially ailing pension plan for the county's "appointed and elected" officials with the one for general employees.

Council members said the report was worth waiting for, even if the delay means revisiting the issue with new legislation. After 95 days without council action, a council bill expires.

"It's excellent," said Councilwoman Diane R. Evans, an Arnold Republican who chairs the council. "They've identified many problems, a lot of which I brought up in council hearings."

Evans had refused to allow the council to vote on the pension bill, which Gary has pitched as the centerpiece of his efforts to cut personnel costs that account for 75 percent of county spending. Last night, Gary introduced a new pension bill, incorporating many of the 40 council-approved amendments.

Evans had said the legislation needed more work. Important Republican interest groups had questioned why Evans was holding up cost-cutting legislation put forward by a Republican administration.

She said her cautious approach was borne out by the commission's report last night.

"This is a good guidepost for us to use as we go along," Evans said.

Pub Date: 9/04/96

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