JOHN G. GARY at last can claim...


JOHN G. GARY at last can claim victory in his battle to rein in Anne Arundel County government's pension systems. The County Council unanimously approved, with substantial modification, his pension reform package.

Rather than realizing a large windfall of savings this year as he had hoped, Mr. Gary and future county executives will be able to pare the county government's contributions to its employees' pension plans year to year.

Budget officials expect to save about $3 million a year. That's about 0.5 percent of the county's current operating budget of $614 million. It also represents about 2.5 cents on the county's tax rate, now set at $2.38 per $100 of assessed valuation.

Instead of allocating $19 million this year for its pension contribution, the county will contribute about $16 million.

The savings may not be huge, but they offer Mr. Gary some welcome flexibility. Even though the council's modifications reduced the first-year savings from about $4.3 million, the result should help put the fiscal '97 budget in the black by about $800,000. With that cushion, Mr. Gary may not have to slice into programs and services in mid-year.

For Mr. Gary, the political payoff is greater even than the financial. The ballyhooed reform will enable him to reassert his claim that he is prudently managing the suburban jurisdiction's finances.

He also can claim to have clamped down on the too-generous retirement packages given appointed and elected officials.

This bill will not have much impact on the retirement checks of county employees now collecting pensions. Nor will there be substantial impact on the 3,500 current employees. The major change is that investment performance will pay for about 40 percent of any cost-of-living increase. If the portfolio performs well, pensioners will be able to keep abreast of inflation. If it does not, they won't.

The bulk of savings will be realized by providing future employees about half the level of current benefits. Unions have maintained that a meager pension benefit will make it difficult for the county to recruit workers.

Whether that claim is valid, we won't know for years to come.

Pub Date: 12/09/96

Gary gets his pension reform; Anne Arundel County: Executive's immediate benefits are more political than financial.

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