SWEETWATER COUNTY– The Sweetwater County Commissioners discussed the county’s early retirement program during Tuesday’s commissioner meeting.
Early Retirement Program is a Cost Saving Measure
The Voluntary Separation Program,is an early retirement program that was first implemented in 2012 to save costs for the county, as well as offer an opportunity to help employees retire.
Personnel costs comprise over 76% of the county’s operating budget, so the early retirement program offers a way to reduce costs within the county’s budget.
Human Resource Director Gary McLean said the Voluntary Separation Program helps employees who want to retire but cannot afford to, or who have had a spouse retire and are looking to retire. In the past, the program has offered an average of $30,000 to retiring employees, either in cash or towards health insurance.
Eligibility for Early Retirement
McLean said there are three requirements for employees to be eligible for the early retirement offer.
The employee must be fulltime, must have worked for the county for at least eight years, and the employee’s position must be able to be eliminated after they retire.
If the department is not able to function without the position, the employee will not be offered early retirement. Reorganizing within the department can be done to allow an employee to take early retirement, or the department can decide it can operate without that position.
Program Has Saved County Roughly $13 Million
Since 2012, roughly 70 employees have taken the early retirement offer, saving the county about $13 million in salary and benefits costs alone.
The program is a cost saving measure for the county, as the economic stability of Southwest Wyoming is boom and bust. Chairman Wally Johnson believes the program has been well received in the past and is good for both taxpayers and employees.
Johnson added that he commends the county employees for reorganizing and continuing to work effectively as departments lost positions due to the early retirement program.
Concerns Over the Elimination of Positions
Commissioner Roy Lloyd expressed concerns, saying cutting costs where they are able to is great, but there does come a point where “less is less”. McLean assured the departments will not cut positions that are needed.
Johnson and McLean pointed out that certain positions within the county do not require re-staffing due to economic fluctuations, advancements in technology, and more.
Broadening the Language to Allow Some Re-Staffing
County Assessor Dave Divis asked if the language of the program could be broadened to allow some re-staffing. He said his office currently operates with nine employees, including himself, and they would not be able to function with less people.
Though his staff had not talked about the early retirement program, he said he has a few people who are eligible to consider it, and that if they did, he didn’t want to deprive them of that offer. Since the employees are experienced and have been working for the county for several years, anyone who would replace them would not be on the same paygrade.
He asked if hiring people at a lower paygrade would suffice as “cost savings” rather than eliminating the positions altogether to save money.
Johnson said the commission wouldn’t make any decisions on that at that time, adding that the departments should discuss that with McLean and come up with a document.
Commissioner Wendling said he would see the department heads look at their departments and figure out how is best to save money for the county and tax payers, while also benefiting employees.
The commissioners unanimously voted to have McLean discuss the program with department heads, get feedback from employees, and have a final document put together to vote on at the next commissioner meeting, which will be Tuesday, February 19.