County police reject lump-sum option for retirement pay

Plan designed to keep veteran officers on force

January 25, 2001|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County police have overwhelmingly rejected a proposed change to their pension plan that was designed to keep experienced officers on the job longer.

In tabulations completed yesterday, 97 percent of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4 members who cast ballots opposed the proposed Deferred Retirement Option Program.

The proposal failed on a 1,106-29 vote, after union leaders raised concerns that only a small number of officers would benefit from the enhancement. The leaders had recommended a "no" vote.

For the first time, the plan would have offered lump-sum payments in addition to monthly payouts to officers who stay on the job at least 28 years. It would have taken effect in 2004. Currently, officers must accumulate at least 20 years of service to collect a pension. County statistics show that retirees on average get credit for 25 years on the job, a figure that includes academy training, unused sick time and military service.

"The county's proposal didn't meet the needs that we wanted to address, that we keep comparable benefits to the surrounding areas," said Cole Weston, the FOP Lodge No. 4 president. "The county's proposal only reached an availability of 7 percent of our organization."

Baltimore County Executive C A. Dutch Ruppersberger said in a statement yesterday that he was "surprised by this vote."

"We offered our police a bonus - a generous bonus - in the form of an enhancement to their pension system," he said. "They clearly do not want it. We accept that choice; this was a democratic process and, as always, we abide by that."

County officials wanted to use the pension program as a tool to keep experienced officers. Union leaders say they want that too, but that the county wasn't offering enough.

Under the rejected proposal, police officers eligible to retire starting in 2004 but who agree to stay longer - accumulating at least 28 years of service - would receive large lump-sum payments. However, their annual pensions would shrink.

According to county calculations, a police officer with 28 years of service would receive a $131,081 lump sum at retirement under the deferred plan; the annual pension would drop from $40,009 to $37,756.

A police lieutenant deferring retirement until after 34 years of service would collect a $368,346 lump-sum payment, with the annual pension reduced to $60,065 from $70,177.

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