Uniform pension plan sought

Sheriff's office asks officials to boost current offering to aid recruiting

April 15, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

The Carroll County Sheriff's Office is pleading with the county commissioners to offer deputies a higher pension plan that would kick in after fewer years of service.

Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning said a better pension could help his department recruit and retain more deputies -- a goal of his office as the county considers forming its own local police force.

"What we're talking about here is a defined uniform pension, which is the industry standard for law enforcement," Tregoning said. "The 401(k) is not the answer. It's not equal to a defined pension program at 50 percent after 20 or 25 years of service."

But the sheriff's office has failed to fully acknowledge that deputies receive three forms of retirement benefits -- a pension, a 401(k) plan that the county contributes to and Social Security benefits, said Carole V. Hammen, the county's director of human resources.

In addition to receiving 21 percent of their salary after 30 years of service under the county pension plan, current county employees, including sheriff's deputies, can get 401(k) returns, Hammen said.

She said the county automatically contributes 3 percent of each employee's salary to the 401(k) fund, up to a 6 percent match if that employee contributes 4 percent of his or her own funds.

"You have to look at the whole package, every piece of it," Hammen said.

The sheriff's department has criticized the county for funding the state police pension for the county's resident troopers, but doesn't offer comparable benefits to its deputies.

State troopers at the Westminster barracks can retire with 56 percent of their salary after 22 years. But state police do not pay into Social Security, so they do not take home that retirement benefit, Hammen and state police spokesman 1st Sgt. Russ Newell confirmed.

Uniform officers have long counted on one guaranteed pension that isn't subject to the ebb and flow of the economy, Tregoning said. He said he would like the county to fund retirement benefits for his deputies under the state-run Law Enforcement Officers Pension System, which would provide 50 percent of an officer's salary after 25 years of service.

Police officers with the Westminster, Taneytown, Hampstead and Manchester municipal departments have switched to this plan.

The Springfield State Hospital Police also receive the state pension, known as LEOPS, Tregoning said. The better retirement package lured a recent sheriff's department applicant away to the Springfield Hospital force, said Lt. Phil Kasten, the sheriff's spokesman.

Hammen said the LEOPS plan is too expensive for the county to fund but officials are looking into lowering the years of service required before a deputy can start drawing a pension.

"LEOPS is like the Cadillac of the industry," Hammen said. "There's no way we can do that. But we are trying to do something."

Hammen also stressed that Carroll County government salaries and benefits are low across the board, as her department has struggled to retain civilian employees attracted to better-paying jobs in surrounding counties.

Because his deputies, like other police officers, carry guns and put their lives on the line every day, Tregoning said they deserve a more guaranteed pension than a civilian employee.

If an officer is injured on the job, the Law Enforcement Officers Pension System provides two-thirds of his or her salary for life, Kasten said.

Under the county pension, a deputy injured on-duty would get workers' compensation supplemented by up to 60 percent of his salary. But once Social Security kicks in, the long-term disability payments end, said William A. Bates, chief of benefits for the county human resources department.

"It's a bridge to get you to Social Security," Bates said of the county's disability plan. "It's not a lifetime guarantee."

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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