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Police take pension grievance to the public


County police officers, angry and frustrated over stalled contract talks, have started a publicity campaign, protesting a pension plan that requires them to reach age 50 before retirement.

The campaign, which began Wednesday with officers passing out leaflets in Arnold and West River, will include full-page newspaper ads, bumper stickers and meetings with County Council members, said Dennis Howell, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 70, the union representing officers under the rank of sergeant.

"The fliers will also be passed out on street corners and in malls," Howell said. "We want to encourage people to stop and talk to us about what is going on."

Talks between the county and the FOP broke down last month after county negotiators refused to allow a "20-years-and-out" plan that would permit officers to retire after 20 years of service, regardless of their age.

Union officials are scheduled to plead their case before the County Council May 21.

Anne Arundel police say theirs is the only county agency in the Baltimore-Washington area that requires officers to reach age 50 before retiring, even if they have served 20 years in the department.

"We need the retirement benefit to attract new officers," Howell said.

Donald Tynes, county personnel director, said the county is working to find how much a 20-year retirement plan will cost and how it can be implemented.

"We just want to make sure that it's not a drain on the system and that it can be done on existing funds," he said.

County police officers do not pay for Social Security benefits. Instead, 5 percent of their salaries goes into a retirement fund to which the county also contributes. The county manages the pension fund, investing in real estate, mutual funds and stocks.

When officers who are 50 or older retire with 20 years of service, they receive 50 percent of their salary for the next 20 years. If officers retire before 50, they are penalized 2.4 percent for each year under age 50.

During the last two years, the county contributed $3.4 million to the retirement fund, which, by the end of last year, totaled $103 million, said Robert Bolton, a police union consultant.

"They projected a 9 percent profit and earned 28 percent," Bolton said. "So, they had a great year."

Bolton said that to pay for a 20-years-and-out retirement plan, the county would have to contribute $3.7 million each year.

Union members say they are angry because they believe the county has taken advantage of them in recent years.

Last year, the union agreed to extend its contract and forgo raises because the county had fallen on hard economic times. Earlier this year, the union agreed to take five unpaid furlough days to help the county government.

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