Council rejects 20 years and out Police, firefighters sought plans allowing earlier retirements

April 08, 1997|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

Howard County Council Republicans rejected 20-year DTC retirement plans for police and firefighters last night, handing County Executive Charles I. Ecker -- a fellow Republican -- a rare legislative defeat.

Ecker, who had cut the deals with both unions in exchange for scheduling concessions, was unable to convince a single Republican council member that allowing retirement after 20 years -- instead of 25 -- made fiscal sense.

More than 100 police and firefighters, dressed in their uniforms, nearly filled the council chambers in support of the proposed retirement plans.

"The public pays your salaries," Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a West Friendship Republican, told the crowd. "Many do not have the security and the benefits that you have."

Later in the debate, when Feaga insisted he was a friend of the police force and said he might support beefing up the current 25-year retirement program, dozens of police officers noisily walked out of the meeting.

"I have no idea what Charlie Feaga is talking about," said John Paparazzo, president of the police union, at a news conference after the vote.

The retirement changes failed 3-2, with Republican Councilmen Feaga, Darrel E. Drown and Dennis R. Schrader voting no. All three said the long-term costs were too high for the county.

"None of us up here is going to be around when the implications of this bill come due 15, 20 years from now," said Schrader, of North Laurel. "We're on the hook for those liabilities."

Both Democrats, Councilman C. Vernon Gray of east Columbia and Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung of west Columbia, voted to approve the package.

"We want our force to be competitive with the surrounding jurisdictions," Gray said. "What we're trying to do is have the top-notch, best police and firefighting force we can have."

Gray did not miss the opportunity to needle council Republicans about not supporting contracts that Ecker negotiated.

"I hope you would not suggest the county executive, Dr. Ecker, would negotiate a contract without thinking of long-term costs," Gray said.

With last night's vote, Howard police and firefighters must keep a retirement plan that allows them to retire with half their pay after 25 years.

"After 20 years of seeing what we see on a daily basis, some people can't take it anymore," Daniel Besseck, vice president of the police union, said after the vote.

The plan rejected last night would have allowed half-pay retirement after 20 years, which Ecker and union officials said would have made Howard more competitive with other area jurisdictions.

Baltimore City and Baltimore and Prince George's counties have 20-year retirements. Montgomery County has a 25-year plan.

Anne Arundel County, citing fiscal and other concerns, switched recently from 20-year to 25-year retirement for public safety employees.

Possible savings cited

After last night's vote, police and firefighter union officials said the package of concessions rejected by the Republicans could have saved taxpayers more than $2 million while putting more police on the street and improving fire coverage.

The new retirement program would have cost an extra $1.5 million in county contributions. But union and administration officials said the contract included concessions worth more than $2 million each year.

To win the 20-year retirement, police union officials had agreed to a 12-hour schedule that would have eliminated overlap between shifts, saving $1 million and adding two round-the-clock patrol beats.

But after last night's vote, Paparazzo, the union president, said the department will have to stay with its 9 1/2 -hour schedule for now. He held open the possibility that administration officials could entice the union back to the negotiating table.

The situation with the firefighter union is less clear.

Firefighters made several scheduling and other concessions worth $1.3 million in exchange for the retirement plan.

With last night's defeat, union officials want to renegotiate their contract, but administration officials are balking, saying that only pension issues are open for renegotiation.

That disagreement could land the county in court, union officials say.

Cat licensing approved

Also last night, the council voted 3-2 to require that most Howard County cats wear licenses, which each year will cost $6 for neutered cats and $24 for cats that have not been neutered.

The licensing, proposed by Drown and Lorsung at the urging of Animal Advocates of Howard County, is intended to curb the population of wild cats.

They argue that if cat owners have an economic incentive to neuter their cats, there will be fewer fertile cats to breed and fuel the growth of colonies of wild cats.

But Feaga argued that the law would be an undue burden on farmers who have several undomesticated barn cats at their farms for rodent control.

He successfully pushed an amendment exempting undomesticated barn cats.

Pub Date: 4/08/97

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