County looks to early retirement for budget helpGoodhue County officials hope more employees will take advantage of an enhanced early retirement program to help shrink a $2 million budget deficit.
By: Jen Cullen, The Republican Eagle
Goodhue County officials hope more employees will take advantage of an enhanced early retirement program to help shrink a $2 million budget deficit.
The county could save almost $900,000 in 2011 and 2012 if 12 employees take advantage of the program, according to information from Human Resources Director Melissa Cushing.
Savings are only realized if those positions are not refilled.
"We need to offer this program," Commissioner Ted Seifert said. "We hope that employees will participate in it because if they don't we'll have to look at other ways of meeting our budget goals."
Commissioners will likely have to cut non-mandated services and consider layoffs to address a projected 2011 budget deficit heightened by state-imposed levy caps and aid cuts.
The early retirement program could ease that pain but is not meant to solve all the county's budgeting problems, Commissioner Jim Bryant said.
"This is just one step of several steps to get the number we're looking at for reductions in our budget," Bryant said. "We won't get there completely through this, there are other things in place."
Eight employees took advantage last year of the early retirement plan. The plan OK'd Tuesday offers more incentives, including two years of health insurance and 100 percent payout of the employee's sick leave balance.
Last year's plan included one year of health insurance or $5,700 and 75 percent payout of sick leave balance.
Cushing said she and other officials decided to enhance the program in hopes of getting more people to sign up.
"We do not believe enough people will participate in the program with just one year of insurance," Cushing said. "We need people to participate."
Cushing said the county's management team has been considering "all sorts of opportunities and options" to deal with the current financial situation and that early retirement would help "alleviate the burden."
Employees must have been an employee at least five years and work more than 20 hours weekly to be eligible for the early retirement program. Participating employees must retire by May 28.
Commissioners on Tuesday proved they were serious about not refilling positions when they turned down a request to immediately rehire an income maintenance worker taking advantage of the retirement program.
Jan Fregien is leaving the job after 35 years. She processes medical coverage applications for disabled people and nursing home residents. Her caseload is more than 300.
Social Services Supervisor Bonnie Smith - filling in for Human Services Director Greg Schoener - told Social Services Board members the position is critical and needs filling.
"We are in dire straights. It's an essential position," she said.
Board members said the county's Personnel Committee - which reviews hiring issues before they come to the full County Board - will need to discuss the request