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County employees express interest in severance-package buyout

At least half of the Island County employees who will be laid off starting in March have requested an early buyout, county officials said Friday.

The county cut 31 positions earlier this month to help bridge a $2 million hole in next year’s budget. The cuts included jobs that were left unfilled and positions that were removed by attrition, and a total of 18 workers actually lost jobs. Eleven of those employees were full-time workers, while seven were part-time.

Earlier this month, the county decided to offer departing workers a severance package worth two month’s pay if they agreed to leave their jobs on Dec. 31.

Larry Larson, Island County’s human resources director, said nine employees have asked for the early-out package. Four others had said they wanted to stay until the layoffs take effect Feb. 28, while five others had not yet said if they wanted to leave early or stay until the end of February.

Employees who take the early-out option will get a severance package for 60 extra days of pay, but will be able to apply for unemployment compensation as soon as they leave their jobs. Workers who opt to stay until Feb. 28 will continue to receive pay and benefits until the layoffs take effect.

County officials also announced the specific jobs that will be cut due to the county’s shrinking budget, which will fall to $67.7 million in 2009, an 8-percent drop from this year’s budget.

Larson said the actual number of people taking the early-out option will be known after employees who have been unable to make it to work due to last week’s snow can notify his office of their decision.

Though next year’s budget looks grim, county commissioners approved a resolution last week that would give a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, increases in pay to non-union employees if the county’s financial situation improves.

County Budget Director Elaine Marlow said the resolution was necessary because workers who don’t belong to a union cannot receive retroactive raises. Collective bargaining agreements sometimes contain provisions for retroactive pay increases.

Still, Marlow was not optimistic that the county’s budget picture will improve next year to the point where raises may be considered.

“I think that it’s very unlikely there will be a COLA,” Marlow said.

“Things don’t look really bright for 2009,” added County Commissioner John Dean. “We’re not really hopeful we can do it.”

Even so, the resolution will give the county the legal basis for the retroactive raise if the county decides at some point next year it can grant it, he said.

“We want to have that option, if magically things improve and in some way we are able to do it,” Dean said.

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