Spending plan calls for pay raises, no increase in taxes

Smith wants to cut costs by altering retirement benefits

April 14, 2007|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,sun reporter

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. is expected to present a budget Monday that calls for pay raises for all county employees and maintains government services without raising taxes.

The proposed spending plan for the fiscal year that begins in July is also expected to include contentious changes to employees' retirement benefits that are designed to cut costs.

While not discussing specifics, Smith said yesterday that he hoped to present to the County Council "a well-balanced budget, meeting the community's needs and maintaining fiscal responsibility."

He said any increase in government spending would not outpace the county's economic growth.

This year's operating budget was $2.385 billion, including a $1.6 billion general fund.

Smith said the toughest decisions in writing his fifth budget involved changes to retirement benefits that some workers had resisted.

Under his proposal, civilian workers with less than 30 years' experience would be forced to work until age 65, instead of 60, to receive full retirement benefits.

Members of the local chapter of the Federation of Public Employees are expected to vote on the proposed contract in coming weeks. If they turn it down, the 1,700 employees represented by the union would operate under the current contract for at least another year.

If they approve the contract, all employees would receive 3 percent cost-of-living increases and more than half of them would receive additional raises as high as 10 percent.

The county administration has reached deals with the other unions that call for varying cost-of-living increases.

After a small tax cut last year by the council, the property tax rate is expected to remain at $1.10 per $100 of assessed value under Smith's proposal.

In addition to the operating budget, which covers day-to-day expenses, Smith is expected to propose a capital spending plan that includes more money for school renovations and community projects.

The County Council, which is permitted only to cut from Smith's budget, will hold hearings on the proposal this month and complete a plan May 24.

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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