The County Council is poised to pass Bill 85-13 on January 6th. County Executive Neuman and the Republican members of the Council have packed the bill with a smorgasbord full of clauses that strip employees and retirees of important rights and protections and shifts costs onto their shoulders. If passed, Bill 85-13 will cause a mass exodus of our first responders and other employees, costing Anne Arundel County tens of millions of dollars in additional recruitment and training costs and increased overtime.
This bill will cause health insurance costs for the average employee to more than double in the next two years, from $1,808 in 2014 to $4,144 in 2016. And some employees are going to see even larger dollar increases. In a two-year period, this bill shifts almost $9 million in costs from the county onto employees’ backs, while county spending for employee health care actually declines. Costs for retirees under the age of 65 will also increase substantially over the next two years.
As a means of making employees and retirees aware of the proposed changes, Joanna created a survey that outlined the various changes being considered in the bill and showed respondents how the changes would affect their costs. The survey was taken in early-December by over 1,000 employees and retirees, including 20% of all employees on the county’s health insurance plan.
The results were deeply disturbing. Half of all respondents were furious about the changes being considered, and 36.4% of employees said they would leave before the bill goes fully into effect. In addition to being upset at how much their costs would increase, employees and retirees were infuriated by how the proposed bill strips them of the ability to negotiate all but one aspect of their health care plans and removes guarantees of what portion of their and their spouses’ retirement health care costs will be covered by the county.
It is apparent from the comments made on the survey that many, if not most, county employees consciously chose to accept lower salaries than they could have made working for other jurisdictions or in the private sector when they came to work for Anne Arundel County in exchange for a good benefits package and the promise of a strong retirement. Since this bill both substantially weakens the benefits package and allows employees to lock in their current 80% retirement subsidy if they leave by certain dates, it is perhaps not surprising that so many employees would chose to quit before the bill goes fully into effect.
Since the early-December survey included two elements that were not included in the final bill, these results somewhat overstate the degree of dissatisfaction employees and retirees have with the bill being voted on Monday night. Excluding respondents who listed these two elements among their top five concerns, 32.0% of the remaining respondents said they would quit or join the DROP program before the bill goes into effect.
Such a mass exodus of our valued first responders and other employees would not only affect the county’s ability to provide the services our citizens deserve, but would be financially damaging for the county. The county has invested at least $76,000 in training every firefighter and police officer on our force, and as much as double that to train our paramedics. If even 25% of our public safety personnel leave in the next few years, the cost to recruit and train their replacements could easily exceed $30 million dollars. This would devour all the savings from shifting costs onto employees for years to come.
We are not Detroit. The county’s revenues from property and income taxes and other sources increased by $42 million this fiscal year. We don’t need to break the important promises we made to employees and retirees to balance our budget.
The original goals of Bill 85-13 were laudable -- to reduce the county’s unfunded retiree health care liabilities and build a trust fund to cover them. I call on the County Council to defeat Bill 85-13 Monday night and develop new legislation that meets these goals without so devastating our employees and retirees that we lose many of the county’s best police officers, firemen, and other employees.
Download a summary of the changes included in the final version of Bill 85-13 and the results of the survey by clicking here or on the "Impact of 85-13" attachment below.
Browse the comments made by survey respondents by clicking here.
Read Joanna's column The Madness of Driving County Employees To Leave.