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Gary unveils proposals to curb personnel costs


Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary unveiled a package of proposals yesterday aimed at curbing the county's growing personnel costs, including a plan to roll back the retirement benefits of 44 current and former elected and appointed officials.

The administration will introduce legislation to the County Council Sept. 18 to repeal a controversial 1989 law that substantially enhanced the pensions for political appointees and lowered the retirement age from 60 to 50 for appointees and elected officials, Mr. Gary said during a news conference in Annapolis.

If approved, the legislation would save the county $3 million, he said.

Many appointed officials would be hurt by the changes "through no fault of their own" and that "has caused me some pangs of pain," the executive said.

But the 1989 law was a "rip-off," he said, an "egregious act placed upon the taxpayers."

"I believe we are on firm legal and moral ground," he said.

The pension offered to elected and appointed officials has become an emotionally charged political issue, one that helped elect Mr. Gary last year. His opponent, former county Councilman Theodore J. Sophocleus, voted for and benefited from the 1989 law.

The council closed that pension plan to new participants in 1994, though those already in it continue to qualify for its benefits. The plan has 95 participants.

Mr. Gary also announced plans to fold five pension plans, which cover 3,500 county employees, including police officers and firefighters, into a single pension system governed by a board of trustees. The system will be similar to one created for Maryland state employees 15 years ago.

Although the five county plans are financially sound by current measures, the cost of the retirement benefits to the taxpayers is expected to grow at twice the rate of overall county spending, officials said.

Under the proposed system, benefits would be standardized and scaled back for new county employees, while current employees could remain in the existing plans, Mr. Gary and other officials said.

"Although you could argue there is no immediate emergency, inaction would be irresponsible," Mr. Gary said.

He said the county will negotiate with county unions over how to enact those changes.

Reigning in the pension benefits offered to police and fire department workers will be particularly important, and particularly nettlesome, a high-ranking source within the administration said.

Mr. Gary would like to eliminate the plan that allows police officers to retire after 20 years, but he expects union officials to fight that tooth and nail, the source said.

During the news conference, Mr. Gary said moving all county employees, including police, into one standardized system would be subject to negotiation with employee unions.

The executive also announced plans to impose a 40-hour work week on county workers. About one-third of the nonpublic safety employees work a 35-hour week.

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