Anne Arundel pension proposal under scrutiny

Council members fear retirement plan may cost additional $12 million

June 14, 1999|By Matthew Mosk | Matthew Mosk,SUN STAFF

A week before they are to vote on an early-retirement program for select Anne Arundel employees, County Council members have raised new concerns that the money-saving measure might carry up to $12 million in unforeseen costs.

"I was stunned," said Democratic Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk after hearing a report from a consultant hired to review the plan.

"For us to chance that kind of long-term expense without better information makes me very uncomfortable," she said.

The early-retirement plan, targeted to 160 county employees, was a crucial piece of County Executive Janet S. Owens' fiscal 2000 budget. The only way to devote more money to schools, she said, was to scale back other county agencies.

Owens, also a Democrat, predicted that she could reduce the county's staff by about 40 people under the plan, saving an estimated $1.2 million.

But council members must approve the arrangement, which would allow qualified workers to receive a full pension even if they retired early. The council vote is scheduled for June 21.

In a study session last week, members pored over proposal details and discovered several issues that concerned them.

One was that, if every eligible worker were to take advantage of the buyout offer, the county would be saddled with an estimated $12 million in added pension costs. If half the eligible employees were to opt for the plan, the added cost would be $6 million.

`Constituents will go crazy'

"I don't understand taking on those kinds of costs to save $1.2 million," said council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., a Democrat. "I think constituents will go crazy if they hear those figures."

But several county officials said the council was looking at unrealistic situations that would never occur.

"It's just not reasonable to think every eligible employee would jump in," said Marvin Bond, Owens' chief of staff. "I don't think the council got the full picture."

Council members also questioned a proposal that would allow some employees to continue receiving a county paycheck after they retire and have begun taking their pensions.

"They have written into the bill that they could rehire some of these people at full pay for up to eight months," Samorajczyk said. "That really concerns me."

Bond said that the measure is an important tool to ensure the county doesn't lose access to the best trained workers when many employees leave at once.

"Obviously you're dealing with your more senior people, which means you have some critical managers who are eligible to go," he said. "You want to retain some of them so an adequate transition can be maintained."

`Careful study'

Randall J. Schultz, the county's director of personnel, agreed, saying budget officials "did a careful study of a lot of those issues before we introduced this bill."

"At this point we need to sit down with the council to explain why we feel this is the best way to go," he said.

Council members said they intend to review other options for scaling down staff that don't necessarily involve pension incentives. Several mentioned simply eliminating positions through attrition.

"I'm very skeptical of the proposal, and I intend to scrutinize it," said Republican Councilman John J. Klocko. "But at this point I don't see clear evidence that there's a need for this."

Pub Date: 6/14/99

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