MCTL Presdient Joan Fidler provided testimony at a hearing September 28, 2010, before the Montgomery County Council on Bill 45-10, Personnel-Disability Retirement- Eligibility-Total and Partial Incapacity:
Thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of Bill 45-10 related to disability retirement. I am Joan Fidler, President of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League and I am here today to commend Council members Trachtenberg, Andrews and Berliner for sponsoring this bill. You have shown considerable courage in devising this new two-tier system for disability retirements, one that I’m sure will not gain you many kudos from the unions. As taxpayers we thank you for recognizing that the current system is fiscally unsustainable and a significant drain on the greatly diminished revenues of Montgomery County.
Let me state, at this juncture, that the problem lies not with County employees (though there have been several egregious examples of abuse by County public safety personnel); the problem lies with the current system that invites abuse. Thus from 1985 – 2008, 40 percent of retiring police officers retired on disability pay. The current system, not the people, needs strengthening. This new, two-tiered system is a more fair approach to dealing with disabilities incurred by employees in the discharge of their duties and is an important step in the right direction. It distinguishes between employees suffering total incapacity and thus unable to engage in gainful employment and those who suffer a temporary incapacity for 12 months. A clearer definition of the two might be more useful in the implementation of the Bill. The devil, in implementation, will lie, as usual, in the details.
Many, if not all, of the surrounding jurisdictions employ a two-tier system for disability retirements and none of them appear to have lost the ability to either recruit or retain highly qualified personnel. Fairfax County—yes in a right-to-work state—has a handful of disability retirements. Howard County has had no disability retirements of its public safety personnel in the last 12 months. Both Fairfax and Howard counties exercise substantial follow through.
There are many positives in Bill 45-10. To name two: (1) retirees receiving disability-related pensions must, on an annual basis, send a copy of their federal tax return to the Chief Administrative Officer in the absence of which the pension payments are suspended; (2) the Disability Review Panel must rely on the assessment of an independent vocational expert to base a determination regarding “substantial gainful activity”.
A few recommendations from the Taxpayers League: (1) the definitions of total and partial incapacity should be more sharply delineated, and (2) annual reviews of the status of those receiving disability pensions should be conducted by medical personnel independent of both management and labor.
The Taxpayers League supports Bill 45-10.