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Baltimore County Now

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Date: Jun 2012

by George Gay

Director of Human Resources

The cost of health care and pension benefits continue to put an unsustainable strain on government budgets across the nation.  Baltimore County is no different.  What is different is that for nearly a decade, Baltimore County has been working with its employee groups to structure a benefit package that is fair for its workforce and sustainable to its taxpayers.  With the new fiscal year only days away, the County is continuing that effort.

Here are the facts:   Baltimore County is proud of the benefits it provides employees, but the cost of health care has escalated to the point where the current benefits far exceed those available to most people in the private sector and are simply not affordable over a period of time for taxpayers.  For a County employee who selects the family plan in the Care First Triple Choice program, Baltimore County contributes $20,554 a year.  For family coverage in the Cigna program, it contributes $18,311 a year, and even the least expensive HMO costs the County $15,950.

Baltimore County’s total budget for FY 13 is $2.69 billion.  The cost of health care benefits for general government, library, community college, and school system employees alone is over $280 million a year, roughly ten percent of the County’s total budget.  To put that number in perspective, Baltimore County’s total budget for the police and fire departments is $294 million.

Several years ago, the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) mandated that state and local governments fully fund the cost of retiree health care on an annual basis.  This simply means that Baltimore County must pre-fund the cost of retiree health care as opposed to funding it on an as-needed basis.  Presently, the County’s unfunded health care liability is more than $3 billion. Employees and taxpayers know something has to give.

At the current time, the County has reached labor agreements with the firefighters, sheriffs, and nurses.  TABCO and other Board of Education labor groups also moved to modify the health-care-contribution rates for school system employees in their new contracts.

The County reached a preliminary agreement with the leaders of the Federation of Public Employees (FPE) before a federal mediator on April 17.    That agreement would have delayed any increases in health care costs for employees until 2015, and at that point phased in a 5% increase in employee contributions over a three-year period.  The agreement would have also guaranteed no layoffs or furloughs through June 30, 2015, while raising the pension contribution for correctional officers hired after July 1, 2011 to 10%, consistent with the agreements for the firefighters and sheriffs.

Preliminary Agreement with FPE, April 17, 2012

Year

Employee Contribution

Employer Contribution

All Plans

2013

No Increase

No Decrease

2014

No Increase

No Decrease

Preferred Provider

2015

21%

79%

2016

23%

77%

2017

25%

75%

HMO Plans

2015

11%

89%

2016

13%

87%

2017

15%

85%

While the County was prepared to move forward with that agreement, FPE leadership decided not to honor the commitment made before the federal mediator and voted against the health care agreement, nullifying any potential contract agreement.  It appears that the County will be unable to reach a contract agreement with FPE and AFSCME prior to June 30, and those unions will be without a contract on July 1.  Even as that deadline approaches, the County is continuing to try and reach an agreement with AFSCME and FPE.

In the past month, County budget officials have reevaluated the economic climate, and the signs are not good.  Job growth continues to be sluggish in Maryland, workers at Sparrows Point face great uncertainty, Europe is in crisis each day, and major financial institutions received credit downgrades.  As a result, Baltimore County needs to institute even greater employee contributions to health care. 

The County’s new health care proposal to the Health Care Review Committee phases in a decrease for preferred provider plans from 80% employer contribution to 75%, phased in at 1% a year from 2013 through 2017.  For HMO plans, the County’s contribution would decrease from 90% employer contribution to 83%, phased in at 1% a year beginning in 2013.

Latest County Health Care Proposal, June 25, 2012

Proposal

Preferred Provider

Employee Contribution

Employer Contribution

2013

21%

79%

2014

22%

78%

2015

23%

77%

2016

24%

76%

2017

25%

75%

HMO Plans

2013

11%

89%

2014

12%

88%

2015

13%

87%

2016

14%

86%

2017

15%

85%

2018

16%

84%

2019

17%

83%

The County goal remains the same:  create a benefit structure that protects employees and is affordable for taxpayers.


Baltimore County Seal

by Keith Dorsey

Baltimore County Budget Director

It’s that time of the year when Baltimore County residents will receive their annual property tax bills. 296,000 bills will go in the mail this Saturday, and usually arrive just before the 4th of July.  If you are like me, when you receive a bill and the envelope includes other pieces of paper, there is a great temptation to just toss that extra paper into the recycling bin.  But before you do that with your property tax bill please take a moment to read the other inserts.  There is some important information included with your bill:

  • There is a flyer entitled Taxpayer’s Information, July 2012 that has important phone numbers to keep on file throughout the year as well as an explanation of different payment options, a change of address billing form, and other relevant items. 
  • I often get asked if there are other charges on a property tax bill in addition to the property tax itself.  The answer to that question is yes.  There are fees that are mandated by Baltimore City and the State of Maryland that are included on your property tax bill.
  • While Baltimore City bills property owners directly for water bills, the County is also responsible for its share of the sewer fees which appear on the property tax bill as the Metropolitan District Sewer Service Charge.  The County collects its portion of the sewage fee to help repair its aging sewer system as part of a federally mandated consent decree, and it turns over a portion of this fee to the City for maintenance of its sewer treatment plants. 
  • The State also requires the County to collect a fee for the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF).  The State uses these funds to upgrade sewage treatment plants in an effort to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.  Residential property owners are charged $60 annually.  There is a flyer in the property tax bills explaining this fee.

The Baltimore County property tax rate remains unchanged for the upcoming year.  It is the 24th year in a row that the property tax rate has not been increased.  If you have any questions regarding your property tax bill, please call 410-887-2403.

I hope this information is helpful.


Baltimore County Seal

By Jim Johnson

Baltimore County Police Chief

The Baltimore County Police Department’s 2011 crime report, now available online here, takes a more comprehensive approach to crime trends than ever before.

In addition to providing year-to-year information, for the first time this report looks at five-year trends. I asked our Crime Analysis Unit to compare 2011 data with the previous five-year averages for each category of crime because I am convinced that we can’t understand whether we’re making progress in reducing crime simply by looking at the short term; we also need to look at how we’re doing over time.

A single year of crime data can be influenced significantly by weather, civil disturbances and the random – or even once-in-a-lifetime – event. We get a better picture of how we are doing when we take the longer view.

The 2011 report shows that our Police Department is fulfilling the mission of reducing crime – both in the short term and the long term.

Looking at crime numbers from 2006 to 2011, it becomes increasingly apparent that 2010 was an extremely unusual year – probably because of the February 2010 double blizzard that kept people inside for weeks. That year, every category of Part I violent and property crime fell well below levels seen from 2006 to 2009.

In 2011, total Part I violent crime dropped even more. In 2010, there were 4,305 incidents; in 2011, the number fell to 4,250. Part I property crime increased slightly.

The real news, however, is how 2011 crime levels compare to the previous five-year average. The crime totals in seven of the eight categories of Part I crime – the most serious crimes – were lower in 2011 than the previous five-year average for each category. (The exception was homicide, in which the total number of crimes equaled the five-year average.)

Looking at the five-year averages, we have reduced Part I violent crime by more than 14 percent; Part I property crime by nearly 8 percent and Part II crime by nearly 9 percent. In 2011, we drove down total crime below the previous five-year average by an impressive 9 percent.  

In addition, Baltimore County Police continue to excel at solving crimes and getting criminals off the street. Year after year, our clearance rates for Part I crime exceed the national average as determined by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program; for some crimes, our clearance rates almost double the national average. We expect this pattern to continue.

When we see crime dropping over time and criminals prosecuted for their actions, we know our law enforcement strategies are working. I encourage you to join me in thanking our more than 1,900 officers and hundreds of civilian professional staff for their hard work in making the County safer, and for continuing the fight against crime into 2012 and beyond.


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