A reduction in health care costs for widows and children of Baltimore police officers killed in the line of duty is more than 10 months behind schedule, resulting in the city now owing thousands of dollars in back pay.
But after calls by The Sun, officials scheduled a meeting for this morning to resolve the matter. Police said the widows will start seeing the cost reduction in January, along with a back-pay check.
"I think that 10 months is a little too long to wait for the city to get off its butt and do something," said Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the police union. "What is most upsetting is that these are spouses of officers who have given their lives to the citizens of Baltimore, and they are being treated like garbage."
Labor Commissioner Melvin Harris said he is not convinced there is a problem and said he only has received one letter. He said the delay has been due to staff reviews of the contract provisions: "We're not trying to undermine any benefits. Nobody is going to be harmed."
Police Col. Joseph Bolesta, chief of the human resources department, said today's meeting should resolve the problem. The reduction was part of the new police contract that took effect Jan. 1. "It should not have taken a year," he said.
Thirty-nine widows and six children are eligible for the reduced costs. Spouses of slain officers are placed in the pension system and receive their husband's paycheck for life, or until they remarry. Children are eligible until they are 21.
Betty Miller, whose husband, Officer Richard Miller, was run down by a car in 1986, said that she pays $50.72 every two weeks for Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the same as if her husband were retired. Under the labor agreements, she should be paying $16.82. The city owes her $682.
"We haven't seen our money," said Mrs. Miller, who has considered suing. "It's becoming sizable. It doesn't seem to me like the city is doing anything except letting it grow and then they'll say, 'We don't have the money.' "
Police Col. Steven Crumrine, chief of the technical service bureau and former chairman of the management contract negotiating team, said he doesn't understand the delay. He said the letter he received from the labor commissioner's office indicated that officials "hoped to resolve it very soon."
"Both sides agreed it was the right thing to do," Colonel Crumrine said. "It is something that should have been followed up on in city government and wasn't."
The colonel said the delay could be attributed to transferring the contract language to the rule books and developing new formulas to determine the health care cost for each recipient.
Overall, Mrs. Miller said the city has treated her fairly.
Raises for the widows are dependent on the pension system. Some years recipients get a 3 percent increase, other times they get nothing. Mrs. Miller said she doesn't like her benefits tied to the pension program.
Meanwhile, City Hall computers think she is a retired city worker.
A few months after her husband died, she received a letter congratulating her for years of service, one more bureaucratic aggravation for a woman whose husband died protecting the city.
"I found it kind of insulting," she said. "I just lost my husband and here I get a letter from the city saying, 'Best wishes for happiness in the future.' "