The Baltimore County Council last night approved a measure that would allow three veteran workers to buy the government pensions for which they were only months away from qualifying when they were laid off in February.
"It's wonderful. I worked for it. I deserved it," said Thomas E. Norris, 44, one of the workers, after the 6-1 vote. He had more than 24 years of service when his job was eliminated in a massive budget cut. "This is a nice Christmas present," he said.
Sponsored by Councilman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th, the bill was opposed by County Executive Roger B. Hayden. Only Councilman Donald Mason, D-7th, voted against the measure.
Mr. Riley, of Towson, said the bill was merely "a show of good faith for all their years of service." But administration officials opposed it and said it might set a precedent for future layoffs.
Mr. Mason, of Dundalk, agreed with the administration last night, saying it would be "a wonderful world" if the council could help people laid off from private sector jobs, too. He warned, however, that ". . . we most certainly are establishing a moral precedent for future members of this council to wrestle with."
Councilwoman Berchie Lee Manley, R-1st, of Catonsville, disagreed, calling the bill a "humanitarian effort." Last night's vote is veto-proof since it takes five votes to override an executive's veto.
Under the bill, the workers will be allowed to pay the county the salary contribution -- about $1,000 each -- they would have made through regular paycheck deductions if they had not been laid off. If they make those payments before March 1, 1994, the sunset date in the bill, they will qualify for their pensions, which amount to between $10,000 and $14,000 a year.
Under the bill, the total cost to the county would be $235,000.
Mr. Hayden announced Feb. 11 that he was eliminating 566 county jobs, 392 of which were filled at the time. After senior workers bumped to lower-ranking jobs, about 290 people were actually laid off, including library employees. Since then, the county has rehired 58 of the laid-off workers, administration lobbyist Patrick Roddy said last night.
Some of those whose positions were abolished were able to qualify for pensions when their accumulated vacation and severance pay were computed.
County workers may ordinarily retire either at age 60 or after 30 years on the job. But the county charter provides that workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own can retire after 25 years' service, or after 20 years' service if they are 50 or older.