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City cops want pension changes

August 19, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

Hagerstown City Police officers will vote on a contract offer today, but a union official said the proposal does not include a change in the pension plan that officers have sought.

Officer Dave Long, an executive board member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3373, said officers want the right to retire with full pension benefits after 25 years of service. Officers now must put in at least 30 years.

Long said there are only three law enforcement agencies in Maryland that demand 30 years of service.

"And, we're one of them," he said.

City Finance Director Al Martin, a member of the city's negotiating team, declined to comment on details of the contract discussions. But he said switching to a 25-year retirement program would be costly.

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Personnel Director Eric Marburger said the pension has not been part of the contract negotiations. Extending comparable benefits to officers after 25 years of service would cost between $700,000 and $800,000 per year.

Withdrawing police and fire officials from the Maryland retirement system and designing a separate pension plan would most likely cost even more than that, he said.

Currently, the best alternative would be to increase the benefits but leave the service requirements in place, Marburger said. That would cost the city between $130,000 and $180,000 per year, but would raise employees' pensions - including those of police officers - from 30 percent of their salaries to 45 percent, he said.

"It is definitely the best bang for the buck," he said.

Long, however, said officers would be willing to make contributions to help pay for the change.

"I think what we have to get across to the public is that the city makes it sound like it would cost vast amounts of money," he said. "The members of the local are more than willing to contribute to this. We're not asking the city to foot the whole bill."

A check with Tri-State area police agencies revealed that Hagerstown's officers must work longer than most to receive full benefits. State police officers in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, for instance, become eligible for full retirement after 25 years of service or less.

Chambersburg and Waynesboro in Pennsylvania both allow retirement after officers who have reached the age of 50 put in 25 years of service.

Long said officers want to be able to retire earlier because of the high demands of police work. While wages remain the biggest issue in the contract negotiations, he said the pension matter is close.

Robert Scully, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, a Washington, D.C.-based police advocacy organization, said 25 years is a common retirement baseline throughout the country.

"That was standard throughout most of the Midwest," said Scully, who retired from the Detroit Police Department. "I would say 30 would be on the high end."

Scully said the New York Police Department and many others throughout the state allow officers to retire at 20 years. On the extreme end, he said several departments in Alaska give pension benefits after 15 years.

Scully said most departments settled on 25 years as a standard many years ago. He recalled a successful effort in the 1960s to raise the service requirements in Detroit. After several years at 30 years, however, union officials were able to push the requirement back to 25 years, he said.

"It just wasn't realistic to expect individuals to go out on the street and enforce the laws for that many years and be productive. It's a high-stress job," he said. "It's very demanding and, I would say, it's a young person's job."

Scully compared officers to professional athletes - the vast majority of whom are unable to compete at an elite level when they reach their 40s and 50s

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 Police retirement

AgencyRequirements for full retirementHagerstown30 yearsMaryland State Police25 yearsPennsylvania State Police25 years or age 50West Virginia State Police20 years and age 50*Washington County sheriff's department25 years or age 50Charles Town, W.Va., police department20 years and age 50Chambersburg, Pa., police department25 years and age 50Waynesboro, Pa., police department25 years and age 50HancockVested after 7 years, can collect benefits at 59 1/2Frederick, Md., police department22 yearsBerkeley County (W.Va.) Sheriff's Department Age and service must equal 80*Officers younger than 55 can receive reduced benefits with 20 years of service. New recruits are eligible for deferred retirement benefits at age 62 after 10 years of service if they have not made any withdrawals.
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