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Police seek to retire in 25, not 30 years

July 23, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

Retirement benefits have become a sticking point in negotiations between the City of Hagerstown and the union that represents about 70 of the city's police officers, a union official said Wednesday.

Police officers want the right to retire with a full pension after 25 years of service, while city negotiators want them to continue putting in 30 years to qualify for full pension, officials said.

Patrolman David Long, an executive board member for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3373, said that from an age point of view, it's ludicrous for police officers to be on the job for 30 years.

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Long questioned whether 58- or 60-year-old officers should respond to domestic disturbance calls or to chase suspects on foot.

"Right now we've got a lot of 50- and 60-year olds out there, not so much because they want to be, but because they have to be," he said.

City Finance Director Al Martin, a member of the city's negotiating team, would not comment on negotiations. Martin said the two sides had agreed that negotiators would not discuss the talks with the media.

Long is not a member of the union's negotiating team.

Personnel Manager Eric Marburger, another member of the city's negotiating team, was not available for comment.

Cost is one barrier to lowering years of service for retirement, officials said.

Martin said dropping the length of service requirement from 30 to 25 years could more than double the city's cost for the police officers' pension fund, from roughly $378,000 a year to $880,000.

"Yes, it's going to cost the city some money, but it's not going to put the city in debt," said Long.

Union members are willing to contribute to the cost of a pension plan that would allow them to retire earlier, Long said. The city bears the entire cost of the current plan, he said.

What irritates the officers is that city officials say publicly that the talks are going great, when they are not, Long said.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman, a member of the city's negotiating team, said he thinks negotiations have been productive.

"I'm still optimistic we can get a good settlement that serves the union well and serves the city well," Zimmerman said.

City officials have not given up on the retirement plan issue, he said. Last week, council members said they were interested in reviewing an enhanced pension program for the city's 434 full-time employees.

The benefits would be significantly better, but the years of service would remain at 30, Zimmerman said. The city's cost would rise between $131,000 and $180,000 a year and employees would have to contribute 3 percent of their salaries.

City police are not threatening to strike, nor could they under federal law, Long said. But they are seeking the public's support for the lowered service requirement.

Until a new contract is hammered out, union members will work under the conditions of the contract that expired on June 30.

Martin said police officers traditionally work under a 3-year contract, but would not reveal the length of the contract being negotiated.

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