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Early-retirement plan has union concerned Leaders worry about overburdened work force


County officials are still confident their early-retirement incentive package will reduce the work force and save money, but union leaders fear the savings will come at the expense of the remaining workers.

"If this is an incentive to streamline, you can only streamline so much," said Carol Buttrum, president of Local 2563 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, representing 370 clerical and technical workers.

Union officials say they are concerned that a high number of retirements will leave many departments short-handed, overworked and stressed out.

But county officials say every position left vacant by a retirement will be evaluated, and essential jobs will be refilled.

County Personnel Director Donald Tynes Sr. said 11 employees have committed to retiring early, and a total of 237 have requested information on the package.

Of the 11 who have opted to retire, four work in utilities, three in public works and one each in fire, police, inspections and permits and recreation and parks, he said.

Tynes said he anticipates that nine more workers will have signed up by Friday.

"So far, there hasn't been any rush made, but we really didn't expect any," he said.

Tynes said that based on experience in other jurisdictions, as well as the number of people eligible to participate in the program -- 400 county employees -- he expects between 100 and 150 retirements.

In Baltimore County, a similar early-retirement plan prompted 394 workers to retire. A total of 1,120 were eligible, said Keith Dorsey, a Baltimore County budget analyst.

The Anne Arundel plan would affect all employees at least 50 years old with 20 years of service. It calls for increasing the pension package by one additional month of benefit credit for each year of service. That means a 60-year-old worker with 30 years of service earning $45,000 would receive an annual $29,250 rather than the current $27,000.

The 90-day window for signing up ends Aug. 14.

If 100 workers take the offer, roughly 50 will likely be replaced and 50 jobs will be abolished, saving the county between $2 million and $3 million, county officials said.

Tynes said the workers requesting information have been provided estimates of the pension checks they would receive if they were to opt for the plan.

They also will be divided into groups of about 10 for seminars on the financial ramifications of retirement, with spouses invited to attend and ask questions.

Buttrum, an evidence technician in the police department, said some 40 police officers are expected to retire this year, because of both the early-retirement package and the retirement option that allows officers to retire with 20 years of service, regardless of age. The department has 560 sworn officers.

She said that could mean fewer experienced supervisors and employees -- throughout the county government.

"You're just not going to get the same level of service, the same quality and you're going to see more burnout," said Buttrum.

County Executive Robert R. Neall said any fire or police officers who opt for the package would be replaced. The measure includes a stipulation that allows Neall to hire back workers, but only for up to two years and without fringe benefits.

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