The Baltimore County Council has introduced a bill that would offer some 1,100 county employees early retirement, with the goal of finding about 200 employees willing to take it.
The measure, introduced at the council's Monday, Sept. 19, meeting, represents a process that Don Mohler, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's chief of staff, called a "humane and evaluative" process that could save the county as much as $15 million in the face of a shrinking budget.
"If we can have 200 people volunteer, we can save somewhere in the ball park of $10 to $15 million going forward," Mohler said.
"If you're going to have significant savings, you have to continue to reduce the size of the government workforce," Mohler said Tuesday.
"We're hopeful that in this process, we think it will allow us to continue to eliminate the size of the county workforce without endangering our core services: public safety, education, and infrastructure," he said.
The bill, which will be discussed at the council's Tuesday, Oct. 11, work session, could be voted on as soon as Monday, Oct. 17.
The county has a workforce of about 8,000, Mohler said, and of those, about 1,100 county employees will meet the criteria put forth by the bill.
The county administrative officer will review each person who volunteers on a case-by-case basis, and if the individual's position can be eliminated, that person will be eligible for early retirement.
Under current County Code, all county employees are eligible for retirement at age 60 with five years of service or after 30 years of service, whichever comes first. If an employee has collected 20 years of service time and turns 55, he is also eligible for retirement.
But under the bill proposed Monday, early retirement would be available to any county employee with 25 years, or with 20 years at age 50, or with 5 years at age 60.
Employees could also receive credit for an additional 1.5 months of service for each year of service, up to three additional years, to help reach the threshold and become eligible for retirement.
At this point, Mohler said many county employees are still digesting the news, and will soon begin preparing for what he called, "one of the most personal decisions someone can make."
"The decision to retire is very personal," he said. "It varies from family to family, individual to individual. Everyone's family circumstances are different. Employees will study the proposal, talk with their loved ones, and make a very personal decision."
Fifth District County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson and Perry Hall, commended Kamenetz for "looking at all the ways to shrink government as we deal with the effects of the recession."
"He's pursuing every option he can without laying off or furloughing employees," Marks said. "I think generally, the county executive has set the right tone since he was sworn in. He knows that none of us want to be raising taxes or laying off employees."
Not for everyone
Not all county employees will be eligible for early retirement. The bill does not apply to police officers below the rank of lieutenant, firefighters below the rank of captain, deputy sheriffs, correctional officers, 911 center personnel and all public health nurses, social workers and appointed department heads.
The move isn't the first the county has made to accommodate a shrinking budget. The county has not provided for cost-of-living allowances for employees in the last several budget cycles. In the budget for fiscal year 2012, 180 positions were eliminated, and Mohler said there are now fewer county government employees than there were 20 years ago.
He anticipates the budget situation will only get worse.
"When (Kamenetz) introduced his budget for fiscal year 2012, he said as challenging as it was, when we got to 2013 and 2014, they'd be even more challenging," Mohler said. "That's proven to be the case."