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Baltimore County

Baltimore County bill would eliminate cap on size of council members’ pensions

A long-standing cap on Baltimore County Council members’ pensions could be lifted under legislation set for a vote Tuesday.

Current county rules cap council pensions at 60% of a member’s salary. If the measure is passed, a council member could retire with a pension equal to their full salary after serving 20 years.

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The pension limit was enacted more than a decade ago amid criticism that a council member who served five four-year terms could collect retirement benefits equal to their full salary for life.

But now some council members say the cap is unfair.

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Council Chairman Julian Jones introduced the measure removing the cap and said in an interview, ”It should have never been there in the first place.”

It doesn’t affect me anytime soon, but it’s an issue of fairness,” said Jones, a Woodstock Democrat seeking reelection this fall to a third term. “It’s just one of the things that needed to be cleaned up.”

Jones said the cap is one item in a list of county retirement issues he wanted to address. A few months ago, the council passed legislation dealing with retirement benefits for Orphans’ Court judges and public safety employees.

Baltimore County Council Chairman Julian Jones.

The council is considered a part-time job, though some members say they work full-time hours.

Council members receive retirement benefits equal to 5% of their salary for each year they serve.

Removing the 60% limit would affect members who serve four or more four-year terms. Someone who serves four terms would get retirement benefits equal to 80% of their salary.

There are no term limits for the County Council.

Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, is the only council member running for a fourth term.

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The pension limit was proposed in 2009 by Kevin Kamenetz, then a councilman. At the time, Kamenetz was considering a run for county executive — a position to which he was first elected the next year — and there was public criticism that then-Councilman Vince Gardina could retire at age 54 with a pension equal to his full salary. With five terms, Gardina was the longest-serving member in the council’s history.

When the council passed the pension cap in 2010, the bill was written in a way that it would affect only future members.

At a recent work session where the bill was discussed, Jones said the change would bring council pensions in line with county employees, who don’t have caps.

But council members receive a much higher percentage of their salary for each year of service than county employees do. For instance, the pension of a general government employee hired after 2007 is equal to 1.43% of the worker’s salary for each year of service, compared with the 5% for elected officials.

“This legislation would basically say after 20 years that a council member can get 100% of his or her salary,” Councilman Wade Kach, a Cockeysville Republican, said at the work session. “Regular county employees in the new system would have to work 70 years to get 100%.”

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Kach, a former state delegate, said he did not support removing the county limit on council pensions. He noted General Assembly retirement benefits are capped.

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Baltimore County Councilman Wade Kach.

Maryland caps a state lawmaker’s pension at two-thirds of an active legislator’s salary, according to the most recent report of the General Assembly Compensation Commission. Their pensions equal 3% of that salary for each year of service.

Baltimore City caps pensions at 60% of salary for elected officials who joined the retirement system on or after Dec. 6, 2016. For each year of service, they receive 2.5% of the current salary for the highest office they held.

In Baltimore County, council members and other elected officials contribute 13.85% of their salaries to their retirement benefits.

Contributions vary for county workers, depending on when they were hired and other factors. For instance, department heads hired after 2007 contribute 10.5% of their salary, while many general government employees contribute 7%.

The removal of the council’s pension cap is included in legislation that would boost council members’ pay by about 10%, to $69,000. The chairperson’s salary would increase to $77,000.

Council salaries were last increased about eight years ago.


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