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Commissioners agree to look at retirement health care, with possible decision in February

After a discussion and a presentation from one commissioner with suggestions on commissioner retirement health benefits, the Board of County Commissioners agreed to continue looking into the benefits, and put the issue on the Feb. 1 agenda for discussion and a possible decision.

Commissioners seemed to be on the same page about looking into the policy to see if it needs to be changed. Board President Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said that while he doesn’t think it’s a “broken” policy, it’s one that can be tweaked.

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“We’re looking at this … we’ll move from there,” he said.

The concerns over commissioner retirement benefits came up when Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 5, raised the issue both in a December meeting with the board and again in January at a meeting in Annapolis.

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If the retired commissioner is younger than 50, they are only eligible to stay on the plan until they reach Medicare age or until they are eligible for insurance through another employer plan, Winebrenner previously said. If the commissioner is 50 or older, they can stay on the county’s insurance plan, but the county’s liability becomes secondary once they reach Medicare age and Medicare becomes the primary payer.

Commissioner benefits — specifically retirement health care — has created friction between local delegates and the Board of County Commissioners.

And although the commissioners did not come to an agreement on specific changes, Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, gave a presentation laying out possible changes and how they would affect the current board as well as future boards.

Rothschild said that while he understood the delegation’s concerns, if the commissioners don’t move forward on something, the delegation is going to take action whether they like it or not.

That said, Rothschild added, the current commissioners didn’t create the plan — “we inherited it,” he said. Rothschild suggested there should be no changes for the current board. He and Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5 will complete their second terms in November.

For the 61st board, which could include Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, Richard Weaver, R-District 2, and Frazier if they win re-election, there should be a partial phase-in, Rothschild said. This would raise the eligibility age to 62 and increase contributions to 20 percent of the actual retiree cost.

For the 62nd board, Rothschild said, the age should be 62 with eight years of service, and contributions should increase to 50 percent of actual retiree cost.

In Friday’s Annapolis meeting, Krebs said they need to figure out what to do for current people on the plan and those currently in office who will soon be eligible, as well as for commissioners after the 2018 election. Then, she said, it needs to be codified into law.

It’s unclear whether legislators have the ability to change the health care benefits or if that is the purview of the commissioners. Although the change was made at the county level originally, Krebs has said retirement benefits should fall under compensation — and commissioner compensation has to be voted on by the General Assembly.

But, commissioners said Tuesday, the Annotated Code of Maryland allows commissioners to make decisions in relation to retirement and pension plans.

Frazier said there should be no confusion or ambiguity, because it’s clear in state law that commissioners have the ability to make the changes to the retirement packages.

“They should know what’s here. It’s kind of like their job. And yet, they’re not sure. I find it baffling,” Frazier said of the delegation.

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Wantz echoed that frustration, and said the delegation should pay more attention to bigger issues affecting the county.

“Shouldn’t the focus be on some of those things instead of a small thing that wasn’t really apparently a huge deal?” he said.

Despite what commissioners say the Code says, Howard expressed concern about the delegation trying to create legislation that would supersede the current law. Howard said his concern over the delegation stepping in and taking control of things isn’t limited to this discussion.

The delegation should focus on major issues like education and the opioid crisis, he said.

“We answer to the citizens of Carroll County,” he added.

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