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Employee pension plan fails

Ingrid Mezo

Emmitsburg town employees will not be entered into a state-run pension plan this year.

Town officials had set aside $42,765 in the draft version of the town's fiscal 2006 budget to enter employees into the pension program, but the measure failed in a 2-2 vote Monday.

Mayor James Hoover and Commissioner Glenn Blanchard voted for the program, while Commissioners Chris Staiger and Art Elder voted against it. Commissioner Bill O'Neil was absent.

The $42,765 set aside to cover town employees' pension costs in the draft budget was transferred to the Capital Improvement section of the accepted budget for the upcoming year. The town will be able to allocate the money almost anywhere there are budget shortages, Mayor Hoover said Monday.

"I'm very disappointed about employees not being awarded the pension," Town Clerk Donna DesPres said. "The legislation means that this won't be able to go through again until next year."

Emmitsburg paid the state $5,000 to conduct a study of the town's employees to present the town a pension package. The program would have cost Emmitsburg nearly $320,000 over the next 10 years, according to town officials.

Staiger said he was wary of the program's cost.

"This represents a tremendous expenditure of town funds, and I'm curious as to why other retirement options weren't investigated," Staiger said at the Monday meeting.

Other board members seemed in favor of providing the town's employees with pensions in earlier town meetings, but Elder changed his mind when the time came to vote on the issue.

With O'Neil absent, Elder's vote against providing the benefit swayed the final outcome.

"We had no information given to us at all until we saw it in the budget," Elder said Monday night, adding that he would not have voted in favor of allowing the study if he had been aware of the overall cost to the town.

Other municipalities in Frederick County that provide pension plans for their employees include Walkersville, Brunswick and Middletown. The Frederick County Board of Education and the Catoctin and Frederick Soil Conservation District also provide employee pensions, according to the State Retirement and Pension System of Maryland's comprehensive annual report.

Thurmont also signed on this year, said Sherlynn Matesky, deputy director of legislation for the State Retirement and Pension System of Maryland.

But, the report shows that Frederick County government withdrew from the state program last year.

"We have over 109 municipalities in the state that provide this benefit to their employees," Matesky said.

Should Emmitsburg desire to enter town employees into the program next year, "it may require another actuarial study fee," DesPres said.

In addition, town officials voted 4-0 on Monday to lower the initially proposed cost-of-living raise for town employees in the fiscal 2006 budget from 3.6 percent to 2.5 percent.

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