Pension reform remains issue in Balto. County Newly elected council inclined to study changes

December 03, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

As a new Baltimore County Council prepares to take office, some members say they're still inclined to reform -- or at least review -- the county's lucrative pension system, which lets elected officials retire at full pay after 20 years, regardless of age.

"The public is definitely interested in that issue ," said Councilman-elect Wayne M. Skinner, a Towson Republican. "Personally, I do think it's excessive."

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, said he would support a cap on the pension the county executive could collect.

Others say this would be a good time to study how the system compares with other public and private plans.

But a member who had said before the November election that he was committed to changing the system has backed off, saying he sees little public support for such a move.

"Why should I fall on my sword if people don't care about it?" said Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, who noted that the pension system failed to catch fire as a campaign issue for Republican John J. Bishop in his bid for county executive. "Right now I've got no plans on it at all."

The county's pension system is among the state's most generous, allowing a County Council member or the county executive to retire at full pay after 20 years and after contributing 13.85 percent of their pay while working.

For example, County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger would be eligible to retire with a pension worth at least $89,250 a year, if he completes his second term as county executive -- the fruit of nine years as a councilman and eight years as executive.

Although council members have long grumbled about the system, some were reluctant to make a change before this year's election, concerned that such a move would appear political.

Ruppersberger's pension would not be affected by any change the new council makes, and the county executive said it would be "hypocritical" of him to try to influence the council.

Ruppersberger said he finds the current system "appropriate."

Others see room for reform.

"If no one else puts in [a bill], I will put one in to cap the county executive's pension," Gardina said.

A pension of $80,000 to $100,000 is too much, he said.

Gardina said a 60 percent cap would provide "more than enough."

But Gardina said that the part-time council members, who earn $38,500, don't receive the kind of huge pensions that a former council member who becomes executive would.

Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a north county Republican, said he wants a review that would compare Baltimore County's system with those of other counties and private companies.

"This would be a good time to review it," McIntire said, because it would not affect Ruppersberger.

Council Chairman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, said he wants the county's budget office to study the effect of a 60 percent cap on all elected officials' pensions, including those of council members.

Pub Date: 12/03/98

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