Sager says pension move is 'good news'

April 03, 1997


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - A Maryland General Assembly committee backed a plan Wednesday that would reduce the city of Hagerstown's $9.96 million pension debt by $2.5 million, about half of what state officials originally had proposed.

"This is good news. This is not as much good news as we had hoped for, but it is good news," said Mayor Steven T. Sager.

Sager and other officials were hoping for a partial bailout from the state of $5 million, which would have reduced the city's pension debt to $4.9 million. But he said the city can make installment payments on the $7.4 million for a few years without significantly affecting city services or increasing taxes.


"We're very appreciative of the help that appears to be coming," Sager said.

The city's pension debt resulted from the retirement agency under-billing the city for its contribution to the state pension plan over several years - a situation that was revealed after the passage of pension legislation last year.

In response, state officials put together a plan that would provide $7.7 million in aid to Hagerstown and six other governments in Maryland that were most affected by the pension debt.

But House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore City, felt that amount was more than the state to afford, said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

"He said, `We want to help these communities, but we don't feel we have to help them as much as the original bill wanted,'" Hecht said.

Hecht was the only delegate in the 27-member Appropriations Committee to vote against the revised plan, which cut the aid package in half.

Sager said he understands the difficulties of dealing with a tight budget and refused to voice disappointment at the committee's actions.

"I respect his judgment," Sager said of Rawlings.

Del. John P. Donoghue said the most recent proposal is a reasonable compromise, but said attempts could be made to get additional state aid in future years.

"If this can be readdressed another time, we'll deal with it again," said Donoghue, a Hagerstown Democrat

The plan likely will reach the House of Delegates floor today, and final approval in both houses will have to come before Monday's close of the annual 90-day legislative session.

"It's important to get it through (the legislature), but we didn't want to get it through this way," Hecht said.

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