Members of the Baltimore County police union have overwhelmingly approved a revised contract that provides raises of 10.25 percent and an enhanced benefits package.
The agreement was approved by a vote of 1,037-86. Members of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, which represents 1,700 officers, voted Wednesday and Thursday. Results were announced yesterday.
The contract revision takes effect July 1, when Baltimore County police had been scheduled to receive 5 percent raises in the third year of a four-year contract. That agreement permitted salary negotiations to be reopened if officers' pay dropped below that of police in neighboring counties and Baltimore.
Union leaders said the improved pay scale was crucial to approval of the pact.
"It keeps pace with other counties," FOP President Cole Weston said. "It allows us to compete with our counterparts."
The starting salary for a county officer will rise from $31,362 to $34,577 on July 1 under the agreement.
The starting salary for officers in Anne Arundel County is $32,212; in Howard County, $33,530; and for Maryland State Police, $35,030. The starting salary in Baltimore City is $31,000, but will increase to $35,784 by July next year.
The Baltimore County agreement includes a deferred retirement option program for department members with at least 27 years of service, and an improved death benefit for surviving spouses.
The surviving-spouse retirement benefit replaces the current system, under which an officer must pay additional money to continue pension payments for a spouse after the officer's death.
Under the deferred retirement option, officers who stay on the job at least 27 years have the option of large lump-sum payments at retirement in exchange for reduced annual pensions.
The first retirements under the program will occur in July 2004.
In January, county police overwhelmingly rejected a proposed change to their pension plan designed to keep experienced officers on the job longer.
That proposal to offer lump-sum payments failed, 1,106-29, after union leaders raised concerns that only a small number of officers would benefit.
The plan would have offered lump-sum payments in addition to monthly payouts to officers who stay on the job at least 28 years, effective in 2004.
Even though the county improved the eligibility requirement for retirement benefits only slightly, police union members reversed their earlier vote.
"The reason is, it came out as a package," with salary and survivor benefit increases, Weston said.
County firefighters accepted a deferred retirement plan last month that offers lump-sum payments to those who stay on the job 32 years.
In July, Baltimore City police officers ratified a three-year contract providing them with the highest pay raise in department history - 33 percent for top veterans. The three-year deal is expected to cost city taxpayers $30 million.
City officers historically have been the lowest paid in the region.