Baltimore County would support a shift in teacher pensions from the state if it were phased in.
County Administrative Officer Fred Homan told a joint meeting of senators and delegates from Baltimore County that the county would support a phased in shift of teacher pension costs similar to what Gov. Martin O'Malley proposed last month.
"The governor's budget as submitted was designed to help the state government in terms of passing the costs on to the local governments in a form that gave the local governments back some revenue," said Homan. "It phased it in, in what I thought was a responsible manner."
Homan served on the state Public Employees' and Retirees' Benefit Sustainability Commission and voted in favor of a shift of some pension costs to local jurisdictions.
Sources familiar with the decision said the county's current position is consistent with the pension commission vote. It is in direct opposition, however, to the Maryland Association of Counties position on the issue.
Homan said the key to the plan is that it phases in the costs.
"The real question is how is the cost to be phased in," said Homan. "If that cost was not to be phased in and simply written over to the local governments, obviously that would be very very harmful to the governments and many could not deal with it. They don't have the fund balances and we'd have to have a tax increase to pay for it."
In addition to a phased in shift to the county, Homan said pension costs should be handled within the exisitng school system budget rather than forcing the counties to come up with extra money each year.
Under O'Malley's plan, Baltimore County could expect to pick up about $3 million in costs. Other county estimates place the cost under O'Malley's plan at $6 million to $10 million.
Both assume the General Assembly passes the tax increases that the governor uses to offset the costs to local governments in the first year. Many leaders of other counties do not believe those increases will be approved as proposed, if at all.
Without those offsets from the state, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz estimated the cost to the county could be as high as $40 million. Sen. Jim Brochin, a Towson Democrat, said Friday he's heard the county could have to initially absorb as much as $60 million in teacher pension costs leading up to taking over the whole pension plan valued at about $90 million annually.
So far, Baltimore County is the only county to publicly support O'Malley's proposal to shift 50 percent of the cost of teacher pensions to local governments.
"The impact of the teacher pension shift would be crippling to the counties we represent," wrote Ingrid Turner, a Prince George's County Councilwoman and president of the Maryland Association of Counties. "This shift could impact our abilities to provide funding for our libraries, community colleges, and non-profits. For a county like mine, it could even impact our ability to fund the public safety recruits we so desperately need."