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County Employees Offered Early Retirement; Layoffs Not Ruled Out

Officials hope to eliminate 200 positions, save as much as $15 million through a voluntary process, but hint at layoffs if goals fall short.

UPDATED (7:59 a.m.)—Baltimore County officials say 1,100 current employees will be offered voluntary early retirement as part of an effort to deal with ongoing budgetary woes related to a slumping economy.

Don Mohler, a spokesman and chief of staff for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, said the county is hoping to eliminate 200 positions from a workforce of about 8,000 through what he called a "voluntary, humane and evaluative process."

"Clearly this is an attempt to right-size government," Mohler said.

County Administrative Officer Fred Homan said the county hopes the early retirements will save the county as much as $10-$15 million in salaries.

A bill creating the early retirement program is expected to be introduced to the County Council on Monday night. That bill would be discussed at an Oct. 11 work session. A vote is scheduled for Oct. 17.

Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr. said Monday night that the seven councilmembers were briefed on the plan earlier in the day.

"The county is trying to save dollars," Olszewski said. "It'll save money at a time when budgets are already down and we don't know what other cuts we're going to get from the state."

Olszewski said he supported the bill.

Employees must meet certain age and length of service requirements. The positions must also be able to be eliminated as a result of the retirement, Mohler said.

Eligible employee classes include those at least 60 years old with five years of service; those at least 50 years old with 20 years service; any county employee with 25 years service regardless of age.

Eligible employees could receive an additional credit of three years of service to their retirement plans in return for early retirement.

If the bill is approved next month, county employees can apply for the early retirement between Oct. 30 and Dec. 30. Most employees who receive approval to retire early would have to leave their jobs by Feb. 29 though some county employees could remain on the payroll through June 30.

Final decisions on each position will be made by Homan , Mohler said.

Employees not eligible for the voluntary retirement include:

  • Police officers of the rank lieutenant or below
  • Fire department employees of the rank captain or below
  • Some classes of deputy sheriffs
  • Some classes of 911 employees
  • Some classes of corrections officers
  • Public health nurses
  • Social workers
  • Appointed department heads

Mohler said the county is hopeful it will be able to eliminate 200 positions through the program.

"The budget picture is clearly not improving, it's not rebounding," Mohler said. "It's not allowing us to sustain the core functions of government that county residents expect."

Mohler declined to specifically say if layoffs could be a possibility. The inability to specifically rule out layoffs is in stark contrast to statements he and former County Executive Jim Smith have made over the better part of the last three years, essentially guaranteeing that no county employees would involuntarily lose their jobs.

"If we're not able to identify 200 positions through this process, we'll be faced with some very difficult questions when we sit down to put the budget together," Mohler said.

Mohler said the goal of the program is to protect "core public services including education, public safety and infrastructure."

It is not immediately known what departments are being targeted or how much the county expects to save.

Additionally, Mohler said Kamenetz has been meeting with department heads in recent weeks, alerting them to expected budget reductions for the 2013 budget year.

He said most department budgets will be smaller for the budget year that begins July 1, 2012 than they are today.

Kamenetz has also met with county Arts and Sciences Commission—the agency tasked with awarding grants to local institutions such as the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and the Walters Art Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Mohler said that cuts to the $3.2 million in grants is expected. He declined to provide specifics.

"As we manage this budget going forward, the pain is going to be shared," Mohler said.

Bryan P. Sears September 20, 2011 at 08:09 PM
Robert: You're correct. The county has avoided layoffs and furloughs, unlike many other jurisdictions in the state and around the country. Even in the face of two years of shortfalls in revenues and using a surplus fund and other moves to plug the gaps. But this downturn persists and there are only so many sofa cushions that can be turned over in the search for loose change.
johnny towson September 20, 2011 at 09:01 PM
Bryan, I contend that our county has been managing its budget myopically, year to year or cycle to cycle. The concerns of this citizen are that many opportunities have come and past where the county could have helped, actively or passively, the citizens and investors in the county evolve with the changing economic and social dynamics. However, political the county's political dynamics and its related influence, have out-paced the maintenance and enrichment of the county's constituents and resources. We now find ourselves in a disadvantaged and rather volatile condition. My disappointment and contention lies within the lack of stewardship, leadership and execution by elected representatives AND many in the private investment community; this includes by necessity, their relationships and partnerships on a state-wide basis. We have reached a turning point where accountability and a clear vision for charting the course of the county, over the next 10 years is needed. Claiming that we are the "best of the worst" is no longer going to pacify our concerns. Expectations are increasing and the capacity and intentions of the elected remains static and self-serving.
Buzz Beeler September 20, 2011 at 09:03 PM
Bryan, got a little behind in the comments section. This is a little like a ponzi scheme where in order to keep the game rolling along the politicians need a constant infusion of tax revenue. When that dries up it's time to pay up as in the case of entitlements. Only problem is "show me the money!" In a nutshell those in power wanted to stay in power and they married the unions and promised them a "Life of Riley," in return for their support. The problem with this arrangement is there is no pre-nup, so they are stuck with this albatross of million dollar payouts and entitlements that if you calculate it in the long term could offset some of the budget deficits. I find this Kamenetz quote rather interesting: "We have to be ever vigilant about that expense." My question is where was Kamenetz, Olszewski, and Oliver during all of those years this open sore festered into a boil? Politics is about power and the money required to stay in power. That money is quickly drying up and along with it the power. One other issue is that these types of programs never work. Fiduciary responsibility and fiscal management is a constant and not something used after the ship has already struck an iceberg.
Robert Armstrong September 20, 2011 at 09:15 PM
600,000 public sector employees have been laid off around the country. http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2011/09/12/317084/despite-600000-public-sector-layoffs-darrell-issa-says-government-shouldnt-try-to-keep-teachers-on-the-payrolls/
Buzz Beeler September 20, 2011 at 09:46 PM
Bryan, as to the medical issues and any impact they may have.
Eastsider September 20, 2011 at 09:48 PM
Here is a question, most employees that will take advantage of this early out has more than 25 years of service some with 30 plus years. This will add anywhere between 4 to 6 percent to their retirement. Who pays for the additional percentages? Is the county picking up that cost or are they going to put it on the backs of the current employees or future hires?
Bryan P. Sears September 20, 2011 at 10:14 PM
Buzz: We had a short conversation. I asked a couple questions and he gave me direct, on point answers—as he has in the 12 or 13 years I've covered county government.
Evets September 20, 2011 at 10:31 PM
Teacher salaries are a matter of public record (not salaries for specific teachers, obviously). Do a little searching if you are interested.
Evets September 20, 2011 at 10:37 PM
Here is a link for you: http://www.bcps.org/offices/PAYROLL/pdf/scales/TABCO-10-Month-Payscale.pdf
Bryan P. Sears September 20, 2011 at 10:51 PM
Evets: Actually, the salary of every individual teacher (by name), not just the union negotiated pay scales, is a matter of public record and can be asked for under state law.
Robert Armstrong September 20, 2011 at 11:05 PM
When you look at the highest compensated employees in the Baltimore County salary database they are top heavy in the County Fire and Police Departments. That's where they ought to look for their cuts. Not at the schools.
Roxane September 21, 2011 at 12:13 PM
Lalain, I taught for high school for 30 years in Baltimore County, so you don't have to tell me how hard teachers work. Mine is not a concern about teachers' salaries. My question is directed in the manner Kamenetz chose to publish payscales. My inquiry is about why they were not listed with other county employees' salaries (like police and firefighters were). Mr. Sears, my paychecks were issued by the Board of Education of Baltimore County - so if the county wasn't my employer for 30 years, who was?
Bryan P. Sears September 21, 2011 at 01:15 PM
Roxane: A complicated question I am not certain I have the exact answer for. In many instances, functions of the school system are considered a state function. The state board has oversight of some issues and teachers are in the state pension plan. There are other examples of shared departments like this. Local health and social services departments, for example. Note that your checks were not issued by Baltimore County but by the school system itself and school system employees are counted separately from the total number of county employees which is why reporters constantly qualify that number when we use it.
johnny towson September 21, 2011 at 01:26 PM
My sense is, the plan is to address immediate budget short-falls first. The current pension agreements are unsustainable so adding to them will not be this administration's primary concern. The County Executive will next launch a campaign to renegotiate the pension contracts in place or leave it to someone else. What is certain to happen, is that individual persons and their pensions and some agency's pension contracts will become the subject of public discourse and subsequent scorn. KK will draw on the public's ire over "outrageous" pensions and pay-offs. The fact that he lobbied these people and their agencies for votes (read used them), is a circumstance he (KK) is betting the public will not remember at the polls. I am certain that the plan is for this County Executive is to put the blame on anyone and anything else outside his office, EXECUTE NOTHING of lasting significance and claim that he "has no choice" other than pursue a change in the system. While some of that will be true, the methods and politics employed, will serve to first deflect attention away from his responsibilities and to create a difficult environment not conducive to executing reform while he is in office (his current office). It will be, politics as usual, directed by the tenured powers at be, with less and less regard for us, the county citizens.
johnny towson September 21, 2011 at 01:30 PM
Mr. Homan would call it "Math-a-magix"
Buzz Beeler September 21, 2011 at 02:23 PM
Bryan, I understand your answer. I just wonder if there is a double standard? It has always been that way. I wonder how they will handle the 14 other cases lined up behind Blake? Bryan, on another issue, johnny towson is spot on and if you pull the pin with what is going on now and will continue to go on in this matter, there won't be enough room on this site for the comments. The figures will do the talking. You don't have to use names.
Robert Armstrong September 21, 2011 at 03:58 PM
Maybe it's time for the county to start doing what private industry has been doing for years and clawing back/ eliminating the pensions and medical benefits of retirees. It's a pretty common practice in private industry. IBM, GM, Beth Steel even the NFL did it. Turn the whole mess over to the PBGC and let them cap the monthly amounts and medical benefits. That's why they are in existence. These people should wake up and smell the coffee and spend a day in the real world. For a good read on the subject read "Retirement Heist" by Ellen Schultz
Robert Armstrong September 21, 2011 at 04:08 PM
Here is another good article about the pension heists. http://www.salon.com/news/economics/index.html?story=/mwt/feature/2011/09/17/retirement_heist_interview
johnny towson September 21, 2011 at 04:22 PM
As a separate review, her book is hardly a "good read." While it is full of information, it is incredibly difficult to process. I tried and gave up. It is like a text book full of facts and circumstances that required me to google to understand...
johnny towson September 21, 2011 at 04:46 PM
Robert, I dont expect you to remember how to be civil but please remember the last book you recommended was Pat Conroy's Cookbook!!
Buzz Beeler September 21, 2011 at 04:52 PM
Are we seeing a double standard here? Now that the shoe is on the other foot, you are screaming to cut the entitlements. Where is that indignation in reference to the entitlements bestowed on the illegals, or is this a one way street in your solution? It's the proverbial - I am right and everyone else is wrong. I predict this is exactly what your response will be. First you will scream illigals don't receive entitlements, and second any link that says they do you will claim it's a racist sight. In order to be taken seriously in the discourse of this topic one must be objective and your forthcoming comments will show otherwise. To remain silent is not considered an answer, but it will indicate the lack of objectivity in your future comments.
Buzz Beeler September 21, 2011 at 05:04 PM
johnny, you didn't know Robert has - according to him - three college degrees, speaks 6 languages and retired from the military? johnny you can see his three degrees at work by clicking on his name and read his profound - but confusing - comments. I never did figure out why he quotes himself. I would think that a person with a background of that magnitude would at least have one link to their name, but Google says otherwise.
Robert Armstrong September 21, 2011 at 05:12 PM
You haven't figured out by now that Bueller has the brains of a Walnut. Google is the end all be all in your little world?? It's nice to fly under the radar. You should try it but I don't think your ego would let you. Pat Conroy is one of the best authors out there bar none. It just goes to show I have varied tastes!
William Lutostanski Jr September 21, 2011 at 07:26 PM
No one seems to get the point. Ranting and raving about salary postings and economics. Its simple. Stop wasting money ! Baltimore County gave GM, an already goverment bailed out company, 6 million dollars in a grant. Baltimore County gives the Zoo and Mueseum of Art, both located in Baltimore City, at least 3.2 million dollars a year. Cut out these things and you save 9.2 million dollars, I know its genius. Im sure I could find about another 20 million dollars or so to save also putting the total savings well above the 15-20 million the County is trying to save by this plan.
Steve Shawson September 22, 2011 at 02:02 AM
I've been following Patch for a while, and I finally decided to join in. Great comments here. I'm less concerned about this incentive than most. It is needed to weed out the highest paid county managers. The real issue here continues to be the projected shortfall of revenue for the county. Baltimore County will need to reduce its work force, which is the largest strain on the budget, to position itself better in the future. They must do this! If you truly look at what the county has done, they have not reduced services or the work force. This incentive is the first step. Once this is done, they need to then focus on reducing the remainder of the work force through retirement incentives and possibly job cuts. Personnel costs are where all the money goes!
taxman September 22, 2011 at 02:03 AM
Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t the County go through this before? Fast forward and now the same thing has happened. Now Department heads, some of which were in their positions or in the wings waiting for their turn to run things, have re-inflated their staff with unnecessary personnel. You would think they would have kept things lean knowing you can do more with less. Mr.Kamenetz you should encourage some of your Department heads to head over to retirement. They obviously haven’t learned anything from the county’s history and the tax payers of this county deserve better.
Anne September 22, 2011 at 07:56 PM
I have heard the same "rumor". Unfortunately, I do not believe it is a rumor rather fact. Mr Homan knows exactly who he wants out.
Raven September 22, 2011 at 11:50 PM
The pension is the reason people work for the government. County workers do not make a comparable salary as non-government workers. I have worked private sector and public sector. It took me 10 years with the government to make what I had made on the outside. I am still 10 years behind in salary. Most of us are very hard workers doing the jobs of several. My concern is that we will be losing our seasoned co-workers that have the knowledge that takes time to have instilled. The public wants less employees but will complain that the services and hours are cut. We are all in a lose lose situation and ask for patience. It is not the front line employees fault but we are the ones that get the brunt.
Karebear September 23, 2011 at 04:53 PM
Well said, Raven.
sylvia October 21, 2011 at 01:11 PM
I agree. It really would be fair to put more names in the mix if the position held is not one that they were elected to hold. Fair is fair in these economic times. I cannot work because of my age and retirement, unless it is part time. How many are willing to work part time at their job for less money?

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