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News Maryland Anne Arundel County Annapolis

Arundel council votes to scale back benefits for county retirees

The Anne Arundel County Council voted Monday to scale back retiree health benefits for current and future county government employees, a move officials said was needed to keep the county from facing a fiscal crisis.

After months of discussion among council members, County Executive Laura Neuman and union officials, the bill was approved with only brief discussion on a 5-2 vote. The bill's sponsor, Councilman Jamie Benoit, a Crownsville Democrat, said the measure "has probably involved more work than any I've worked on."

Neuman brought the issue to the forefront in September, saying the county would be "on a path to bankruptcy" if it didn't change the retiree benefits package. Officials said the county faced a long-term bill of $1.2 billion to pay for what it had promised county workers — and needed to set aside $104 million per year to pay for that system.

Currently, the county sets aside $24 million per year. The legislation passed Monday won't completely resolve the issue — officials said the county will still need to increase its annual set-aside to $75 million.

Under the bill — which still must gain Neuman's signature — current retirees will not see any changes, but most current workers and future workers will have to work longer for the county to earn subsidized insurance in retirement. The amount of the insurance paid for by the county will increase as an employee works more years.

Employee unions have acknowledged the need to scale back benefits to keep the county afloat financially. But they don't like some of the provisions, including one that states that details of health plans can't be negotiated in collective bargaining — only the amount the county pays for.

The unions are weighing whether they will challenge that portion of the bill in court, and after Monday's vote, Officer O'Brien Atkinson from FOP Lodge 70 issued a statement saying union leaders continue to have mixed thoughts about the changes.

Neuman hasn't said whether she'll sign the bill into law, but said last week the council proposal looked "promising" and contained many key provisions she has sought.

In addition to Benoit, those voting in favor of the bill were Council Chairman John Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican, and council members Richard Ladd, a Broadneck Republican; Chris Trumbauer, an Annapolis Democrat; and Councilman Jerry Walker, a Gambrills Republican. Voting against it were council members Daryl Jones, a Severn Democrat; and Derek Fink, a Pasadena Republican.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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