Facing a $1.4 million shortfall in the proposed 2013 budget, Vilas County officials are leaving no stone unturned in their bid to produce a balanced budget.
With that in mind, the members of the county’s personnel committee met last Wednesday to discuss the possibility of creating an incentive program that would allow some county employees to agree to give up their jobs for a one-time cash payment and a deal on their county-provided health insurance.
Vilas County Human Resources Director Janna Kahl told the committee recent conversations with county department heads indicated there would be some employees who are near retirement.
“We could allow them to leave early and potentially offer them something in return for that,” Kahl said. “It could maybe be 2 or 3 percent of their annual income based on their years of service.”
Kahl said the proposal could also be offered to other county employees to help trim expenses.
“The payment would be less than their yearly salary and the county would save on the cost of providing benefits,” Kahl said. “There would be significant savings in health insurance not having to be paid.”
Kahl said she and finance director Jason Hilger had discussed the idea and they agreed the benefits to the county would help toward eliminating the county’s budget deficit predicted for the 2013 budget.
“We’d have to put in some qualifiers and we can’t do it across the board,” supervisor and committee member Sig Hjemvick said. “In most places where I’ve seen this offered the people had to meet certain qualifications and is offered only for a set period of time.”
“We’re potentially looking at people who want to leave anyway and this could be incentive enough to prompt them to do that now and save the county money in the long run,” Kahl said. “The risk is small and the likelihood of a massive number of departures by department heads I think is very, very small.”
Adjust staff levels
County board chairman Steve Favorite said he thought the idea made sense.
“We can then adjust the staffing levels,” Favorite said. “It’s certainly better to have people do this voluntarily rather than having layoffs.”
“I think this would be a good way to manage this,” Hjemvick said. “They also have to know that this is a one-time offer and we won’t change it later.”
Kahl said she has researched this type of offering and believes a 45-day window for employees to decide after being were presented the offer would be workable.
The committee agreed to try to move the proposal forward quickly enough so the amount of funds involved in the plan and how many employees would participate might be known before final action on the budget in mid-November.
Kahl said she believes the proposal “would be tailored for non-represented county staff members.”
“We need to know what we are doing here before we jump into this,” supervisor Ed Bluthardt said. “We need to know the costs.”
Hilger said it was difficult to make projections on how much the county might spend or save on the proposal until they know exactly how many people would go with the plan and just how large a benefit the county was willing to give the employees to leave their jobs.
“We’re looking at possible savings of between $30,000 to $40,000 per person who takes this,” Hilger said. “This policy would allow an easier exit, it would be easier and better for morale and it would be easier on the department heads.”
Kahl said it might also be a good idea to propose to the county employees that the county would pay a specific amount of their health insurance premium if they go with the county’s benefits plan that has a higher deductible.
The proposal would need to gain final approval from the county board, but in order to present the idea to supervisors at the board’s September meeting it was proposed the personnel and finance and budget committees hold a joint meeting to hammer out the proposal’s final details. The joint meeting was then scheduled for today, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2 p.m.
Before that joint meeting can occur, both Hilger and Kahl were instructed to work together on a proposed resolution for county board approval. In addition, they were asked to provide more than one possible deal that could be offered to county employees.
“We want some options and then the committees can agree and we can then plug those numbers into the resolution,” Favorite said.
Hilger and Kahl both said it is difficult to estimate how many county employees might take advantage of the proposal.
“We’ll know for sure at the end of the 45-day period,” Kahl said.
Once the county has those final numbers it can then use the information to help ease the county’s proposed 2013 budget deficit.
Joe VanDeLaarschot may be reached at email@example.com.