Federal grant will be used to hire 140 city police officers Force could lose 350 after pension plan expires

October 29, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police estimates that the city could lose up to 350 of its most senior officers -- 11 percent of its force -- starting in January when a three-year pension incentive plan expires.

City Board of Estimates members accepted yesterday a $15.8 million, three-year federal grant to hire and train 140 officers, which Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke hopes would help to soften the blow of any exodus because of the pension extension expiration.

Baltimore instituted the Deferred Retirement Option Plan in 1996 to try to keep officers with more than 20 years of experience. The three-year plan allowed police and firefighters to receive monthly pension payments in addition to their salaries, plus a three-year nest egg from interest-bearing sums invested in their name that will be delivered upon retirement.

The Baltimore police force has 3,200 sworn officers. The police union made its estimates based on attendance at recent seminars it held to explain the pension system.

Schmoke, who recently instituted a hiring freeze that exempts public safety workers, said he hopes the police academy can continually train officers to replace those expected to leave.

"This is going to help," Schmoke told board members. "You won't see a huge drop [in the number of officers] on the streets, but you will see a loss in experience."

Union leaders, however, worry that the city won't be able to replenish its force in time. "They've had three years to plan for this," said Gary McLhinney, president of FOP Lodge 3. "That's why we made it a three-year plan."

In other action yesterday, the Estimates Board stood firm on its recent expansion of the Port Covington/Westport Area State Enterprise Zone. The lines were redrawn despite the opposition of HarborView Properties Development Co., which wanted to include its 27-story condominium complex along Key Highway in the zone.

Baltimore Development Corp., a nonprofit arm of the city created to recruit businesses, excluded the HarborView site because enterprise zone tax breaks -- which start at 80 percent -- apply solely to businesses. But HarborView officials said they had planned to recruit a hotel to open lots surrounding their complex. Inclusion in the enterprise zone would be an added incentive to potential developers.

State Sen. George W. Della Jr., a South Baltimore Democrat, introduced the necessary state legislation to expand the zone, which required Board of Estimates approval. Della told the board yesterday he opposed the HarborView inclusion. Schmoke, however, told HarborView representatives that the city would be open to considering expanding the zone further if a viable hotel proposal is created.

Pub Date: 10/29/98

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