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County workers eligible for severance packages

Island County employees who will lose their jobs because of the county’s budget crunch will be able to take a severance package worth two month’s pay if they agree to leave their jobs early.

Eighteen workers will lose their jobs due to next year’s budget cuts, Island County officials said Monday.

County officials gave the official toll on the number of pink slips that will be handed out earlier this week, as the union for county workers was given formal notice of the job reductions. County commissioners also approved a move to offer severance packages for 60 extra days of pay for employees who leave at the end of the year, two months before the date the layoffs take effect on Feb. 28.

Commissioners earlier approved the workforce reduction effort when the 2009 budget was passed to bridge a $2 million budget hole in next year’s spending plan.

Under an initial estimate, the county figured that 30 jobs would be cut. According to county Budget Director Elaine Marlow, the staff cuts for 2009 equal 29.55 full-time jobs.

The county cut, in total, 31 positions. The numbers include four workers who left voluntarily, 15 positions that were removed by attrition, and a total of 18 employees who actually lost jobs; 11 were full-time workers, seven were part-time.

County department heads were notified in a letter Monday on the specific positions that would be cut.

Also Monday, county commissioners approved on a 2-0 vote the basics of a severance package for outgoing employees. Commissioners John Dean and Helen Price Johnson approved the agreement with Local 1845; Mac McDowell was absent.

Employees who want to take the severance package must notify the county by Dec. 24. Their last day of work would then be Dec. 31.

Employees who opt out early will get two months of pay past Dec. 31, said Larry Larson, Island County’s human resources director. Union and non-represented workers will be eligible for the buyout.

“There’s a little bit of savings to the county because the person, of course, is not receiving benefits,” Larson said.

Employees who lose their jobs, but don’t want the severance package, can continue to work and receive benefits through Feb. 28, he said.

Under the terms of the agreement with Washington State Council of County and City Employees Local 1845, employees who agree to the buyout will get a lump-sum payment on Jan. 19.

Because the severance package won’t be counted as actual wages, workers will then be able to file for unemployment, as well.

Employees who stay through Feb. 28 will receive regular pay and benefits and get their final checks from the county in March.

County commissioners approved the layoffs when they passed the 2009 budget earlier this month.

The cuts also reflect reduced hours for 10 employees.

Uniform cuts were not made in the hours cut from some jobs. Instead, the number of hours that were reduced depended on the position, Marlow said.

“One individual lost 16 hours, another individual lost eight hours. Another individual went from full-time to half-time. It’s sort of across the board,” she said.

Brian Kelly can be reached at 221-5300 or bkelly@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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