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Sykesville mulls offering retirement plan to town employees

The budget approval process may still be six months away, but Sykesville's Town Council is considering a new proposal for town employees: pensions.

Sykesville is the only municipality in the county which does not offer a state-run pension, said Mayor Ian Shaw at the Oct. 28 meeting.

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The town currently operates on the government-equivalent of a 401k retirement plan. To even consider entering the state retirement system, the town has to pay a fee for an actuarial study to see how much it would cost.

The town pursued an actuarial study in 2008, but the cost was $7,000 for the study alone. At Monday's meeting, Town Attorney Dennis Hoover said the cost was what stopped the process last time.

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Town Manager Dawn Ashbacher estimated the study would cost between $7,000 and $10,000.

A compelling case to sign up for the retirement system is in order to make both the town, and in particular the Sykesville Police Department, more competitive with surrounding towns and counties, Shaw said.

"There are some people that think defined benefit has reached the end of life, but we're in a competitive environment to employees and we're losing the battle," Shaw said.

Turnover is highly expensive, and it's a huge investment to get police officers trained only to use the Sykesville Police Department as a stepping stone for a better career, he said.

Interim Chief Shawn Kilgore has been with the Sykesville Police Department for 17 years. He said he supports a change in the retirement system because of the competitive field in policing. Other municipalities can afford to pay their police officers a more competitive salary.

Ten officers have left for other police departments since 2000, with eight of them citing benefits or salary as the reason for leaving, Kilgore said. The Sykesville Police Department is currently down two officers, and a third position is frozen.

A better retirement plan can help to keep talent in Sykesville, he said.

Kilgore said in his experience, he stayed in Sykesville because he values small community police work. The recently retired Chief John Williams took Kilgore under his wing and fostered training and development for Kilgore, which kept him in in the community.

"I think there are some more important things than money," he said.

That being said, he said today's young graduates are more savvy about their retirement than he was at the age of 23. He said if he could go back, he would have put more money away earlier for his retirement.

A higher salary attracts good employees, and then a competitive retirement makes them stay, he said.

"If you had the choice of 65 percent of your salary after 25 years or one that relies on stock markets, which are you going to choose?" he said.

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Ashbacher said at this point, the town needs more information about how much it would cost the town and employees before they decide whether the town council will consider it. She said though she doesn't have a cost estimate, it will cost tens of thousands of dollars for the town.

Monday the town council opted to write a letter of intent to get more information on how much the actuary study would cost.

"We're trying to level the playing field, we're not trying to make it even," Shaw said.

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