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Councilman warns Olszewski needs to shore up county pension fund

John Lee
Towson Historic Courthouse, the seat of county government. Credit: John Lee

A Baltimore County Councilman is sounding the alarm about the health of the county’s pension plan for its retirees.

Democratic Councilman Tom Quirk said County Executive Johnny Olszewski needs to address it in the budget he is presenting to the council next week.

For years, the council has turned to Quirk for financial guidance. He chairs the county's spending affordability committee. He is the president of a retirement and investment group in Catonsville.

Quirk said for years county executives have not put enough money in the fund for retirees.

“Adding to the pension isn’t that jazzy,” Quirk said. “It’s not going to get you accolades like if you do a library or you do a school or you do something that taxpayers immediately see.”

Quirk said he would like to see Olszewski increase by 3% pension funding in order to shore up the system.

“It’s a long-term decision making process that I think is really important that requires a long-term view, and also some tough decision making,” Quirk said.

He adds the retirement fund is no danger of insolvency, but Quirk doesn’t want to “see it drift further down.” That could lead to the county’s AAA credit rating being downgraded.

In a statement, Olszewski said in his budget he will increase pension funding to ensure the preservation of that benefit.

“Our retirees have dedicated their lives to serving the residents of Baltimore County and they deserve to know that the retirement they earned is being protected,” Olszewski wrote.

Meanwhile, the county council this week unanimously passed legislation, introduced by Quirk, that will require the county executive to explain to the council how future pay raises for county employees will eventually affect the retirement fund. Quirk said it will allow the council to make more informed decisions about signing off on those proposed raises.

“Really looking out 5, 10, 15 years on the impact of the decisions that they’re voting on,” Quirk said.

Olszewski said he supports doing that.

“Councilman Quirk’s legislation is consistent with our push for more transparency and accountability,” Olszewski said.

The county executive presents his budget to the county council April 14.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2