Baltimore County will pay at least $1.6 million in a dispute with the police union over health insurance overpayments, county officials said Wednesday, ending a lengthy legal standoff during which a judge at one point threatened County Executive Kevin Kamenetz with jail time for failing to follow court orders.
The payment would reimburse hundreds of police retirees who the state's highest court found have been overcharged for health insurance.
Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Finifter ordered Kamenetz and two top officials last month to appear in court June 26 to explain why the county refused to comply with orders to reimburse about 440 retirees.
The Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4 had asked Finifter to hold Kamenetz, county administrative officer Fred Homan and budget and finance director Keith Dorsey in contempt.
The Kamenetz administration responded with a motion asking that Finifter not make them appear in court. On Wednesday, Finifter denied the motion.
The county plans to pay the amount ordered by the judge within the next few days, said Don Mohler, Kamenetz's chief of staff. The court judgment stands at more than $1.6 million.
The payments are to go to officers who retired between 1992 and 2007, when the county shifted additional health care costs to retirees. The union argued that the county violated its contract when it made that change; the county contended that the shift was negotiated through a committee that included union representatives.
The dispute made its way to the Maryland Court of Appeals, which ruled in the union's favor in 2012.
"The county's goal all along has been to protect the taxpayer," Mohler said in an email to The Baltimore Sun. "We still believe that all employees and retirees should pay the same rate for health care and that one group should not pay less than another.
"Notwithstanding, Baltimore County will make payment as ordered and expects that the petition for contempt will be dismissed immediately," the statement said.
Cole Weston, president of the local FOP lodge, said Wednesday that union leaders had not heard from the Kamenetz administration about its decision to repay the retirees.
"We look forward to hearing from them to bring this to a successful conclusion," he said, "but there are a number of things that would need to be done."
He said courts have ordered the county not only to reimburse the retirees, but also to reduce the health insurance premiums it continues to charge them.
"Until we have clear confirmation that they are going to follow the court's order," Weston said, "we're certainly not going to withdraw any petitions on behalf of the people we represent."
The union initially sought about $573,000 for the retired officers, but the amount grew to over $1.6 million to cover legal fees, interest and premiums that retirees continue to overpay.