Bill would create two-tiered benefits system based on severity of injury
by Erin Cunningham, Gazette Staff Writer
Should a Montgomery County police officer with a broken trigger finger receive the same disability retirement benefits as a fellow officer who is paralyzed?
County Council members Philip Andrews and Duchy Trachtenberg say no.
They introduced a bill Tuesday to create a two-tiered system — currently in place for the county's firefighters — that would grant a lesser benefit for officers with less severe injuries.
Council members Valerie Ervin and Roger Berliner are co-sponsors of the legislation.
"There is a real difference between a broken finger and a paralyzed spine," Trachtenberg said. "You can't give the same benefit to someone who has a broken finger and someone who is in a wheelchair for life."
But that is what the county has been doing.
The bill stems from concerns over the number officers receiving a disability benefit for injuries suffered on the job — about 60 percent of those who retired in 2008, according to an inspector general's report.
More recent data show that 18 of 44 police officers who retired between July 2009 and June 2010 received disability benefits, county spokesman Patrick K. Lacefield said.
Inspector General Thomas Dagley reported that in fiscal 2008, 837 county employees received disability benefits, totaling $32 million. Of those employees, 264 were former police officers who received a combined $13 million.
Under the bill introduced by Trachtenberg (D-At large) of North Bethesda and Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, a county employee who retires due to service-connected disability would receive either a partial incapacity benefit of at least 52.5 percent of final earnings annually, or a total incapacity benefit of at least 70 percent of final earnings annually. Chief Administrative Officer Timothy Firestine ultimately sets the benefit amount.
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