Deferred Retirement Option Programs allow employees who delay retirement to receive the one-time payments when they leave, in exchange for smaller annual pensions. County officials said the county must contribute $7.5 million to its pension fund this year for the program, according to an actuarial analysis.
Three county police majors left their jobs this year with payouts of more than half a million dollars each, according to the figures. They also have annual pensions exceeding $150,000. Another six police employees — four captains and two lieutenants — left with payments of more than $400,000 each.
One police major, who retired June 1, left with a payment of nearly $520,000, plus more than $101,000 for unused vacation and comp time. The major's yearly pension will be more than $158,000. Public safety employees in the county can be paid for up to 50 vacation days and 480 hours of comp time when they retire.
Stephan Fugate, president of the Baltimore Fire Officers Association, said the Baltimore County police benefits seem high.
"Those numbers are, quite frankly, mind-boggling — not only the DROP benefit, but the pension benefit as well," Fugate said.
The Baltimore Sun requested figures on retirement payments for county employees who have retired since June 1 of this year. The county data did not link the payouts to names of retirees.
The County Council approved DROP in 2004. Police officers with 27 years of experience and firefighters with 32 years were eligible. The optional program was part of an agreement reached in 2001 by then-County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger's administration and public safety unions.
The program is intended to reduce the amount of salary that the county uses to calculate workers' pensions. The lump sum that they get when they retire includes the annual pension benefit that they would have gotten if they had retired when they entered the program, plus the contributions they made in the meantime and at least 5 percent interest.
Union officials emphasize that while the numbers are high, the beneficiaries are getting reduced pension benefits.
Michael Day, president of the Baltimore County Professional Fire Fighters Association, said the program has helped retain veterans.
"It kept people around longer," he said. "These dollar figures that the individuals are finally collecting is money that was due to them anyway."
One fire captain who retired this year received a roughly $336,000 DROP payment, with a yearly pension of about $99,000. Another got about $327,329, plus a pension of more than $96,000.
When the program first started, the county contributed $5 million annually to the pension fund, county officials said Thursday.
Most employees do not walk away with huge payouts, Day said.
"You're talking about brass," he said. "You're not talking about rank-and-file."
Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police President Cole Weston emphasized that the program is optional.
"Some people take it, some people choose not to take it," he said.