Baltimore County Council set to vote on bill to end pension 'double-dipping'

Baltimore County Council members began debating Tuesday whether they should eliminate a pension policy that’s due to grant generous payouts to top officials, including the county executive.

The policy was created in 2010, allowing certain employees who retire from one county position and then return in another position to receive both pension benefits and a paycheck.

Three former council members who voted for the policy in 2010 stand to receive two pension checks, plus a lump-sum payout when they leave county office for good: County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, environmental director Vincent Gardina and Kamenetz’s lobbyist, Sam Moxley.

The lump-sum payouts will represent the value of pension checks that they didn’t receive while earning a paycheck during their second stint with the county.

Normally, a retired employee who returns to work for the county would have to choose between receiving either their pension check or a paycheck, according to county officials. Receiving both at the same time is often criticized as “double-dipping.”

A fourth top official, Arnold Jablon, the director of permits, approvals and inspections, will receive a lump-sum payout but isn’t earning a second pension. He previously worked for the county for more than three decades in a variety of roles before leaving for a private law practice and then returning to the county to work for Kamenetz.

Councilwoman Vicki Almond has proposed eliminating the part of the law that allows for the enhanced pension benefits — stripping those officials of their lump-sum payouts.

Almond’s office has estimated that once Kamenetz finishes his second term as county executive next year, he will be eligible for a $48,000 annual pension from his 16 years on the County Council, a $70,000 annual pension from his eight years as county executive, and a lump-sum payout of at least $384,000 that represents his “banked” council pension while he was executive.

“This legislation, I believe, is an important step toward pension reform that prevents waste and fraud,” said Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat who is considering a run for county executive next year.

Almond said her bill is “righting a wrong that was done years ago.”

Councilman Julian Jones defended the employees who are getting the enhanced benefits. Jones said the employees worked hard and earned their benefits under the system.

“They tweaked the system,” the Woodstock Democrat said. “They didn’t make the system.”

“Yes they did,” Almond shot back. “They changed the law to make the system work for them.”

The council’s lawyer has cautioned that it might not be legal for the council to eliminate vested pension benefits the employees earned.

The council is also considering a bill that would allow a version of the pension policy to continue for retired county employees who return in part-time public safety jobs. More than 30 retired police officers are now working in part-time police and detention center positions, earning both a pension check and a paycheck. They will not receive lump-sum payouts and are not earning second pensions.

The council is scheduled to vote on both bills Sept. 5.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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