Frederick County offers retirement to help close budget gap -- Gazette.Net







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Frederick County is offering up to 75 of its eligible workers a $25,000 bonus to retire beginning in July in an effort to save money in the future and reduce a $29.2 million structural deficit in next year’s operating budget.

There are 154 employees eligible for the program, although only 75 applications for the program will be accepted, Tracy Lobuts of the county Human Resources Division told the Frederick County Board of Commissioners on Thursday.

The move is projected to save the county $2.4 million a year, she said.

There are 2,197 full-time employee positions in the recommended fiscal 2014 operating budget that was also unveiled Thursday.

Employees from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and the Fire and Rescue Services Division must have served 20 years to be eligible for the payouts, while other county employees must have 25 years of service, Lobuts said.

If too many applications from a department or division are received, seniority will be used to determine which ones are accepted, she said.

The retirement incentive plan won’t eliminate those 75 positions, but the savings will come from refilling those positions at entry-level salaries, county Budget Officer Regina Howell said.

Howell said some positions may ultimately be eliminated through outsourcing or restructuring of departments, but it’s too early to predict that.

The payments will cost the county $1.9 million, which will be covered by an unallocated surplus in the 2014 budget, she said.

Anyone who accepts the retirement plan won’t be eligible to be rehired by the county until July 1, 2015.

Employees will have until May 13 to file their applications with the human resources office, and then will have another week to change their minds before the decision is permanent, according to a county news release.

Retirements will be staggered from July 1 through Oct. 1, the release said.

The commissioners voted 5-0 to approve the retirement offers on the same day the county unveiled its $511.4 million proposed 2014 operating budget.

The increase from fiscal 2013’s $471.2 million budget was due to a decision by the commissioners to move the county’s tax for fire and rescue services into the general fund.

The county’s two-tiered fire tax system was established in 2001 by combining the county into urban and suburban districts.

The urban district — which consists of the entire county except for Brunswick, Middletown, Lewistown, Walkersville and Thurmont — paid higher tax rates because it provided 24-hour fire coverage, while the suburban district only provided paid coverage on evenings and weekends.

The budget includes $244.2 million for the Frederick County Board of Education, $94 million for county departments and $89.4 million for the sheriff’s office and fire and rescue.

The change will bring the property tax rate in the county to $1.06 per $100 of assessed value by adding the $0.128 urban fire tax rate to the county’s current $0.936 property tax rate.

The proposed budget also includes a $29.2 million structural deficit after subtracting one-time expenses from operating expenses.

The commissioners asked the staff to look at what effect offering the retirement incentive could have as part of their ongoing efforts to reduce the county’s recurring expenses, commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R) said.

He emphasized that the county wasn’t offering anyone early retirement, since any applicants for the incentive will have to already be eligible for retirement.

Young and several other commissioners have expressed an interest in bringing the county workforce below 2,000 employees by the time they leave office in 2014.

Commissioner David Gray (R) said he thought the offer was a reasonable approach because it offered people the opportunity to retire but didn’t force anyone to leave.

“I think it’s the right kind of emphasis,” Gray said.

A public hearing on the fiscal 2014 operating budget is scheduled for 6 p.m. on May 7 at Urbana High School, with the commissioners scheduled to adopt the final budget on June 6.