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Bill would limit retirement benefits for some Balto. Co. workers

Some Baltimore County employees who retire in the future would receive smaller pensions under state legislation proposed by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's administration.

The measure, which has split the county's public employee unions, would save the county $407,000 annually by limiting benefits for people working for the county after careers in other governments. People who participated in retirement systems that didn't require employee contributions — as Baltimore County does — would get less under the plan.

County officials say the bill would affect about 150 people, but some unions representing public employees say more than 400 would be affected.

"If the bill passes, not one person who has retired will lose one dime from their benefit," said Chief Administrative Officer Fred Homan. He said that includes people retiring under the county's current early-retirement incentive program.

But one union official criticized Kamenetz in light of his own lucrative pension. In 2010, Kamenetz — then a councilman — supported an amendment that allowed him to take another county job and bank pension payments from his council tenure. He also earns new retirement benefits from his position as county executive.

In recent years, Baltimore County workers have had to increase their contributions to their pensions and make other sacrifices, said Glen Middleton, executive director of AFSCME Council 67.

"His nose is always up in the air," Middleton said of Kamenetz. "He's always looking at a way to change [workers'] pension benefits, and their health care benefits, too. But when it came time for him, for this county executive, to get a fat pension deal, he was for it right away. … Where's the fairness?"

It would be unconstitutional for the state to retroactively change people's benefits, Middleton said.

Homan said the current system is unfair to county employees who have always contributed to their pensions.

The county's firefighter union supports the county's view on the issue.

"We're basically subsidizing their benefits," union president Mike Day said of employees who transfer from non-contributory pension systems.

Last year, a Harford County circuit judge ruled against Baltimore County in a case involving former county auditor Brian Rowe, who had transferred service credits and sued the county over the way it calculated his pension. The county is appealing.

AFT Maryland, with which the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees is affiliated, believes the legislation "attempts to affect a case currently under consideration in the courts," said AFT Maryland spokesman Terence Cooper.

Del. Adrienne Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, introduced the bill earlier this month. A hearing on the bill, which was first reported by Patch.com, is scheduled for Friday.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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