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Keeping tabs on the City Council's activities so you don't have to

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 11/5/2008

Bill 08-0220--Fire and Police Employees' Retirement System-Benefits--Post Retirement Increases. This changes the annual increase in retirement payments to police and firefighters from a market-based model to a guaranteed 1.5 percent, capped at the inflation rate.

Resolution 08-0087R--Informational Hearing--Retirement Benefit Enhancement-Followup. The idea here is to explore the possibility of allowing city workers other than police and firefighters to retire after 20 years of service, instead of the mandated 30 years.

The Read: City employees, like most government workers, receive an actual pension, instead of a 401(k) tax-deferred savings account, as is now the standard for private corporate employees. Pensions pay money to retirees based not on their individual savings and investment, but from a pool of money managed by the government. A retiree with a pension like this cannot be wiped out in a stock market crash or an investment-bank failure. Pensions are better than 401(k) plans, because they are guaranteed by the government and the benefit usually increases over time to keep pace with the cost of living. Since overtime work is used to figure benefits, it is not unusual for a cop to retire in his or her mid-40s, collect 70 percent (or more) of his or her base pay, and then take another job at higher pay. (About 22 percent of Baltimore City police and fire department employees take a disability retirement with higher benefits, a 2006 study found.) Because pension funds invest in the same pool of stocks and bonds as lowly 401(k) holders, when those investments sour, the municipalities--taxpayers--have to pony up millions more to make up the shortfall: This year the bill is $81 million. City fire and police employees have gotten their cost-of-living increase as a kind of bonus: In good investment years they do well; in poor investment years they get no increase. Bill 0220 would smooth out those payment shocks by banking more of the investment gains in good years, while protecting the retirees during years like the one just past. The unions say 1.5 percent is not enough and plan to negotiate for more. Resolution 0087R is a first step in allowing trash haulers, parks workers, and street pavers to get a 20-year retirement deal like firefighters and cops.

Bill 08-0225--Residential Permit Parking-Enforcement. This would put new teeth into the law against counterfeiting residential parking stickers.

The read: Councilman William Cole (11th District) introduced the bill to fix an ordinance the council passed a couple of years ago, which made parking-pass counterfeiting punishable by a civil citation. "Unfortunately," says Cole, "you can't put a civil citation on a windshield." A $500 ticket would be a better deterrent to parking-sticker fakers, he says.

Resolution 08-0082R--Request for State Legislation--Gun Crimes--Increase in penalty. This resolution asks the state legislature to pass a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence for felonies committed with a gun.

The read: Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young's (12th District) draft bill read "not more than 20 years" and was amended to read "not less than 20 years." Councilwoman Belinda Conaway (7th District) tried to put the brakes on the measure, saying that "the population overwhelmingly affected by this is overwhelmingly minority," and that the council should instead urge more money for preventive measures. Young raised his voice in an emotional reply. "These guys are in and out. Some of them have five or six convictions with guns," he said. "I'm tired of the excuse that we're minorities. We're the ones committing the murders. It's us killing us!"

"Today our society has become, to some extent, numb and complacent to the murder that's been going on in this city." --Councilwoman Helen Holton (8th District), introducing a resolution seeking an update from police on the status of the Ken Harris murder investigation. Harris, who served as a City Council member from the 4th District from 1999 to 2007, was shot to death outside the New Haven Lounge on Sept. 20.

Next council meeting will be held Nov. 17 at 5 p.m.

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