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Editorial - Will citizens help police?

July 23, 1997

Most citizens of the city would probably agree that officers of the Hagerstown Police Department do a great job under trying conditions. But agreeing that officers deserve a pat on the back and agreeing to dip into your wallet to fund better benefits are two different things. It's time for everyone involved in negotiating the new city police contract to put the financial facts on the table.

Among other items, the police want the right to retire after 25 years' service, instead of the current 30-year requirement. David Long, an executive board member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3373, says it's ludicrous to force officers to serve 30 years, because that means 50- to 60-year-old officers must chase suspects on foot or respond to dangerous domestic-disturbance calls.

We agree; chasing crooks on foot is a job for younger people. But getting the retirement down from 30 to 25 years isn't as simple as saying okay.

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Al Martin, the city's chief finance officer and a member of the negotiating team, says costs would immediately jump from roughly $378,000 a year to $880,000. And that figure doesn't count the unfunded liability the city would face for all current employees, for whom the city made contributions at a lower rate, assuming that they would work 30 years. Allowing those people to retire five years earlier when you haven't socked away enough money could push annual costs to $1 million.

But just for a moment, let's say that costs will only go to $880,000. That's an increase of about $500,000 a year over current costs. There is no piggy bank to crack open and get that cash. Either the city cuts the current budget or it raises taxes.

How much would taxes have to go up? Since each penny on the city's property-tax rate raises about $57,000, it would take an eight- or nine-cent increase in the rate. For the owner of a house with a market value of $100,000, that means a $36-a-year hike. It's time to ask the citizens if they're ready to do without other services or accept higher taxes to help out the men and women in blue.

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