With the stated goal of helping departments “reorganize and streamline operations,” Mayor Karl Dean is offering nearly 2,595 eligible Metro employees an incentive to retire.
The Metro Council is expected to give final approval this week to the voluntary buyout program Dean proposed last month. The program has faced no opposition — and garnered no discussion — in two appearances before the council, and several council members told The City Paper that their questions about the specifics of the program had been sufficiently answered in committee.
So far, approximately 150 employees from various departments have expressed interest in the program, according to Metro’s Human Resources Department. Employees can apply for the program until Jan. 18 if they are currently eligible for an early or normal service pension. Most Metro employees qualify for normal retirement at age 60, if they have at least 25 years of credited service with Metro.
If they take the buyout, they would not be eligible to return to full-time employment with Metro.
In 2004, under then-Mayor Bill Purcell, about 440 employees took advantage of a buyout program that offered employees $500 per year of credited Metro service, resulting in incentive payments totaling $6.3 million. Dean’s offer is perhaps slightly more enticing. It would give employees $700 for each year of credited service, meaning a 25-year employee would receive $17,500. The mayor’s office estimates incentive payments for the new program will total $5 million to $7 million.
Coming as it does in the same year as a Dean-proposed property tax increase, questions initially arose as to whether the program might be the result of budget issues. The mayor’s office has said that wasn’t the catalyst for the program and instead pointed to efforts to achieve more efficiency throughout Metro government.
“[The] idea generated from discussions with various departments about an aging workforce and interest in opportunity to reorganize, which is difficult within civil service rules,” Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling told The City Paper last week. “[We] saw that periodically a buyout program was offered and thought [it was a] good time with [the] driving purpose being [the] opportunity to reorganize to increase efficiency.”
Riebeling said there is “no specific target” as far as a number of employees or amount of savings Metro hopes to achieve as a result of the program. The program will be budget-neutral initially, he said, with a goal of savings in future years.
According to analysis prepared by Metro Council attorney Jon Cooper, departments must not fill positions vacated by employees taking advantage of the buyout “until the amount of the incentive payment has been recouped through savings.”
Such savings could be achieved by reorganization of job descriptions and employee duties. Later on, they could occur if departments operate with fewer employees, and replace senior-level employees — those eligible for the buyout — with younger workers who draw cheaper salaries and benefits.
At-Large Councilman Charlie Tygard said he was encouraged to hear that departments would be streamlining their operations, but that he would like to see the city maintain any efficiency achieved by the program.
“The real key, to me, is this. What happens a year, or two, or three years out in that department that I just described,” he said, speaking of a hypothetically streamlined department. “Now I’ve lived a year or two leaner and tougher. I’ve rearranged job descriptions and duties. But, at some point, do I go back and say I can’t make it, I’ve got to get back to the level I was at. Then it doesn’t work.”