Balto. Co. police, sheriffs forgo raises for job security

The police and sheriffs' unions in Baltimore County have agreed to a contract that will guarantee members their jobs for the next two years, but will eliminate cost-of-living adjustments and increase they amount they contribute to their pensions, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said Tuesday.

The firefighters' union and several others have reached similar agreements with the county subject to ratification by the rank and file, Smith said.

"All the union leaders have signed off on the contracts and we are confident their members are in synch," said Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr.

Michael Day, president of the county firefighters' union local, said the agreement takes into account "the very difficult economic climate that exists in the nation and ensures that fire and EMS personnel will keep their jobs and that the people of Baltimore County will continue to be safe and secure, where they live, work and play."

The county says the deals will save at least $14 million and as much as $24 million per year.

Smith is due to deliver his 2011 budget proposal to the county council April 15 and detail how the county will close a $144 million budget shortfall this year.

The labor contracts protect jobs in a recession that has pushed the county's unemployment rate to nearly 8 percent. "There will be no lay-offs," Smith said.

"This is a great example of labor working to get us fiscally sound in these difficult economic times," Smith said. "These agreements and the savings will also allow the next county executive breathing space."

Smith is due to leave office in December, when his second term ends. At least four of the seven County Council members are also vacating their seats.

Under the agreements, the roughly one third of employees who are eligible for step and longevity increases will receive those. Police and firefighters will contribute an additional 1.5 percent of their pay to their pensions for a total of 8.5 percent, while general government workers will pay an extra 1 percent increase for a total of 7 percent.

"Governments across the nation cannot sustain the benefit structures that are in place," said Don Mohler, county spokesman. "If these unions want benefits there when members retire, they had to agree to these changes."

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