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.