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Town considers employee pensions

Ingrid Mezo

Emmitsburg town officials expect to vote Monday on whether to provide pension benefits to town employees through a state-run program.

The program is expected to cost the town around $330,000 over the next 10 years, according to the town officials.

The public may comment on this issue before commissioners vote on it Monday. The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. and will be held at Town Hall, 300 S. Seton Ave.

The town has set aside $42,765 in the proposed fiscal 2006 budget to provide seed money for new employees to become part of the system.

The state pension program is retroactive, meaning that employees who worked for the town before the program was instituted will be credited for their years and hours of employment with the town from their first day as town employees.

"Most of the municipalities in [Frederick] County are part of the Maryland pension program," Mayor Jim Hoover said at a meeting this week.

Other county municipalities that provide pension plans for their employees include Walkersville, Brunswick, Middletown and the Catoctin and Frederick Soil Conservation District, according to the State Retirement and Pension System of Maryland's comprehensive annual report.

Thurmont and the Frederick County Board of Education 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.

All commissioners except Chris Staiger said they fully support providing pension benefits to town employees as a way of retaining them, according to their comments in meetings June 6 and 13.

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

"I hate to think that because we have a captive audience of taxpayers ... that [this is] such a substantial portion of their money is being spent on in the budget," Staiger said June 6. "In order to allow town employees retirement benefits, a $5,000 study was authorized and conducted for the state to present the town with a package ... with no explanation or appropriate review."

Emmitsburg Town Clerk and Treasurer Donna DesPres has been working for the town for 10 years, and said that the pension program would serve as an incentive for her to stay.

"The way I look at it is the employees are the most valuable asset of a company and you have to put money into your assets," DesPres said, drawing an analogy between the town and a private business. "It behooves the company to take care of their assets so that they can produce more, and the product we are creating is public service."

The town provides its employees with a 457 retirement plan, which is the government equivalent of a 401K, as well as a percentage of health, dental and life insurance benefits, DesPres said.

Employees have to have work either 30 years or reach the age of 62 with at least five years of employment with a municipality before they can receive their pension, according to Matesky.

Once an employee is enrolled in the state retirement plan, the employee can transfer any service credits earned in one Maryland municipality to another municipality in the state that offers the same benefit, according to the State Retirement and Pension System of Maryland Web site.

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