A loan for Kohl's Department Stores is being considered by the Harford County Council to help the company to make improvements to its e-commerce distribution, or fulfillment, center in Edgewood.

The conditional loan from the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development would provide the company with $400,000, and a loan from Harford County's Economic Development Opportunity Fund would provide $100,000, according to a resolution introduced before the council at its legislative session in Bel Air Tuesday night.

The resolution helps Kohl's acquire or build machinery, equipment, furnishings, fixtures, leasehold improvements, site improvements or infrastructure improvements at its "e-commerce fulfillment center" on Trimble Road.

The council did not act on the resolution Tuesday.


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Benefits hearing

The council also held a public hearing with Treasurer Kathryn Hewitt and Human Resources Director Scott Gibson about proposed bills appropriating funds for the 2013 post-employment health plan and other post-employment benefits funds.

The proposed appropriations are $2,040,510 to the health plan and $9,442,537 to the other fund, and such funding is necessary under accounting principles governments are required to follow. The additional money is coming from unappropriated surpluses from prior budgets, according to the legislation.

Councilman Dick Slutzky asked if the trust fund related to the health plan would be interest-bearing and what the rate would be. Hewitt replied it would fluctuate.

The health plan appropriation also includes money going into a special pays account, listed as "personnel matters," that is distributed upon employee death or retirement.

Councilman Jim McMahan pointed out the "inordinate" number of deaths the county workforce experienced and asked if that was the reason for a shortfall in that fund.

Gibson agreed, noting the sudden deaths of two Harford County sheriff's deputies last year.

"To have two back-to-back was an inordinate expense," he said.

McMahan also asked if the county is "pretty much ahead of the curve," and Hewitt said it is.

She said Harford has funded 100 percent of the contribution each year, while other Maryland counties have not, which "keeps building their unfunded liability."

McMahan added: "We have been very frugal and put that money away in the past."

Hewitt also said: "The main benefit is to taxpayers of the future, that they won't be required to pay the retiree health care of people working today."

According to Gibson, the two accounts being funded by the legislation discussed by the council Tuesday are a "future liability" that cover medical insurance benefits costs for retired county employees. Those benefits are available to them for life, he said.

The smaller of the two "OPEB" accounts covers the costs put aside for employees hired after July 1, 2010, when the county switched from a defined benefit post-employment health care structure to a defined contribution structure, the latter where the county puts a specific amount of money aside per employee annually, similar to a 401(k) account contribution, Gibson explained Thursday. The employee can use the money in his or her account to purchase insurance once they retire, but the contributions are not tied to a specific percentage or cost threshold.

The larger of the two funds covers employees hired prior to July 1, 2010, who receive 85-90 percent of their annual health insurance premiums paid by the county, Gibson said.

Gibson also said the county has been funding the two OPEB accounts at this time of year by using unappropriated fund balance, rather than making the appropriation at the start of the fiscal year in July.