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Council Tables Controversial Pension Bill

Council members said concerns over unanswered questions and passing a law affecting ongoing labor negotiations drove their decision.

UPDATED (9:40 p.m.)— The Baltimore County Council Monday night tabled a controversial bill that sought to end the practice of of 834 county employees.

The council voted 4-3 with Council members Cathy Bevins and John Olszewski Sr., both Democrats, and Republican Todd Huff voting against the motion, which effectively killed the bill.

After the vote, Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond described the vote as one of the most difficult she’s been asked to take since taking office in December 2010.

Almond said she and many of her colleagues were concerned about being asked to deal with the issue while the county negotiates a new contract with the union.

“I’m not sure it’s our role to be in the middle of this,” said Almond. “These are important issues but it’s stuff others are meant to take care of. This is not our job.”

Currently, about 834 employees represented the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union are allowed to use their overtime to increase the size of their final pension benefits. The employees—most of whom are vehicle maintenance workers, snow plow drivers and sewer maintenance workers—pay into the pension system based on their overtime.

The practice, which is not law, affects only employees represented by AFSCME and dates back three decades, according to Keith Dorsey, director of the county Office of Budget and Finance.

The problem, however, stems from the fact that those overtime payments are not consistent year to year but result in an increase in an employee's base pay, on which the final pension benefit is based.

"It's has brought bizarre results," Dorsey said of the policy during testimony before the council last Tuesday.

Dorsey said some employees could receive retirement benefits that are based on a calculation higher than their actual base salary. One current employee with the county could be paid a pension based on $62,000 in average compensation based on overtime payments even though his actual salary is $4,000 lower.

Passage of the bill would save the county nearly $370,000 annually, Dorsey said.

But Almond and Councilmen Ken Oliver and Tom Quirk, Democrats from Randallstown and Catonsville respectively, and Perry Hall Republican David Marks peppered Dorsey and County Administrative Officer Fred Homan with questions about the savings and how they were calculated

Almond pointed out afterwards that most of the questions regarding the cost savings went unanswered.

“These are things we need to know,” said Almond.

Not everyone on the council agreed with the vote to table the bill.

Bevins, an Oliver Beach Democrat, called the pension benefit “ridiculous” and said she hoped the council would have dealt with the issue Monday night.

“I thought it was something we needed to deal with,” said Bevins.

Huff, a Timonium Republican, agreed.

“I would have liked to put this issue to bed tonight. I wanted it over and done with,” said Huff, adding that he hoped the administration would be able to answer the council’s questions and “bring the bill back quickly.”

Don Mohler, a spokesman for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, said the administration will continue to “focus on saving taxpayer dollars.”

He declined to say if that meant the administration might attempt to bring the bill back over the summer once negotiations are concluded or an impasse is declared.

Norm Anderson, president of the county AFSCME chapter, was not immediately available for comment after the vote.

A number of unions including the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4 joined with affected union members to oppose the bill last week.

More than five-dozen union members and affected workers marched outside the Old Courthouse in Towson and chanted "Negotiate don't legislate."

John Ripley, president of the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees, a union that opposed the bill, said he was “pleased with the courage and vision of the council.” The union leader said the county should continue to seek a resolution at the bargaining table with the affected union.

He added that county officials had lost the moral high ground to negotiate on the issue because of a pension arrangement that allows Kamenetz and former Councilmen Vince Gardina and Sam Moxley to opt into a pension loophole to defer their council pensions and remain in the county pension system while earning credit for their new jobs. All three voted for a bill creating the loophole prior to the 2010 election.

In other council news:

• The seven member council unanimously approved a bill updating the Honeygo Overlay District in Perry Hall.

The bill, which takes effect in May,essentially allows for the creation of larger front yards for new homes in the district by changing the setback requirements for garages. The change stemmed from a work group formed by Councilman David Marks and had the support of the Perry Hall Improvement Association and the Home Builders Association of Maryland.

The standards for the district were first passed in 1994 by then Councilman Vince Gardina.

• The council honored Natalie Phyall, a 10-year-old student in the 4th grade at Villa Cresta Elementary. Phyall received a council citation for performing the Heimlich maneuver on March 9 on a friend who was choking during lunch at the school. (Read more about Natalie and see her talk about her experience.)

• The council did not take up a vote to confirm the to the Baltimore County Revenue Authority board.

Campbell is president and chief executive officer of ROC Realty Group. He is also the former chairman of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce and past president of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced his appointment Monday morning. Campbell would replace Joseph Blair, who's term expired last June.

If confirmed, Campbell would become the first African-American to serve on the five-member board in nearly six years.

brenda ruminer March 20, 2012 at 02:23 AM
Good to see the county council exercise judgment, and not rubber stamp what Kamenetz and Homan propose. The more questions put to these two, the fewer straight answers you'll get. and its good to see Mr. Ripley call it like it is...these clowns are so hypocritical its sickening...the pension system is underfunded, but they are too arrogant to cut back on their own double dipping before looking to take it out of the little guy's benefits....maybe the public needs reminding that Mr. Jablon is making $300K a year, when you add his $180K salary to his $120K pension!!......hard to believe local government officials make such money.....Kamenetz has of course remained silent about all this, but his critics (and future opponents) are keeping track of this evolving scandal, and more remains to be told......
Hendo March 20, 2012 at 09:13 PM
For years, it was said that the County Council was nothing more than an approving body for the Administration. This does not seem to be the case now. Mr. Marks has been criticized for not going with the flow. But one can see he is trying to do something unique- represent his constituents.
Jimmy March 20, 2012 at 09:34 PM
Unfortunately, I fear the good ones like Mr. Marks will only be a one term councilperson. I hope I am wrong. The Kamenetz, Homan, Olszewski team is very powerful and intimidating. It seems if you don't go along with them, you won't be around very long. Bevins is also one to be watched. She is a Jim Smith leftover. I find it very curious the firefighter's union hasn't teamed up with the other unions in the county. Maybe Mike Day has political aspirations for his future. We must all stay together or we will hang separately.
Emma Norton March 22, 2012 at 01:12 PM
brenda r and mypoint of view communicated my thoughts exactly. The law that enables kamenetz, moxley, jablon and gardina to collect DOUBLE PENSIONS must be repealed! The council and the kamenetz administration need to be held accountable for this poorly thought out legislation. How unfair and arrogant that those that are trying to cut money elsewhere are continuing to bank illegal monies themselves......Someone needs to take a stand, and confront these cowards who have managed to stay silent on the issues. Pathetic!
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