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In or buyout?
by Sarah Cooper
Oct 28, 2009 | 882 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
To help save city streets, Jack Leggett and his crew inject cracks with hot asphalt. To help save the jobs of younger workers, Leggett, a city employee for nearly 34 years, may give up his own job by accepting the city's buy-out plan.
To help save city streets, Jack Leggett and his crew inject cracks with hot asphalt. To help save the jobs of younger workers, Leggett, a city employee for nearly 34 years, may give up his own job by accepting the city's buy-out plan.
Jack Leggett sat in the back of the Sparks City Council Chambers Monday with one arm around his wife Carolyn’s shoulder, wondering what would happen with his job.

The 33-year veteran crew leader for the city’s street department still wore his neon green construction vest as he waited to see if the city would approve a new employee buyout package. The vote was unanimous in the affirmative, meaning that Leggett can now ask to leave his job with 75 percent of one year’s salary and his choice of a medical benefits package.

“I am ready to retire, anyway,” Leggett said, adding, “This might be a way to save someone’s job.”

Leggett has until Jan. 15, 2010, when the option expires, to make his decision.

According to meeting reports, the buyout option was the outgrowth of faltering tax revenues. These dips in revenues could mean another $3.1 million cut from city’s 2010-2011 budget, according to reports from the city’s finance department.

The projected shortfall has city officials thinking ahead and considering cuts.

The shortfall is because of the county assessor’s expectation to reduce the property taxes based on assessed value of commercial and industrial properties as a result of the high vacancy rate, according to city spokesman Adam Mayberry.

The 2008-2009 budget was sliced by about $5.25 million and the 2009-2010 budget is 4.6 percent leaner than last year’s.

According to Mayberry, the buyout option trimmed city expenses while potentially sidestepping the painful process of layoffs. However, he added that if projections for the 2010-2011 budget are as bleak as, or worse than, projected nothing is off the budgetary chopping block.

“One of the steps we have taken is to offer the voluntary separation program where, in the best case scenario, it will help us cover much of that amount ($3.1 million),” Mayberry said. “Somewhere along the way we need to look at additional budget cuts. … Nothing is off the table.”

The budget planning process for 2010-2011 usually begins in January, Mayberry added.

According to written reports from Sparks human resources manager Chris Syverson, the buyout is meant to “incite employees to voluntarily leave city employment at the earliest date, allowing the city to review and seriously consider what essential functions are necessary to the operations and what functions may be eliminated or restructured in the long term.”

If 40 people take the option, the buyout offer is expected to save the city $2.7 million, according to Syverson’s report. The initial cost to the city of the buyout, if all 40 people take the option, would be $1.6 million.

“We don’t know how many people are going to take the voluntary separation,” Mayberry said. “That is not the end all in terms of solving the budget difficulties. If it is overwhelmingly successful there could be some staff reduction down the road.”

Leggett is just one of many who have watched throughout the past year as co-workers lost their jobs, the victims of budget cuts.

“Two people on the crew lost their jobs, one guy got the news while he was serving (in the military) in Iraq,” Leggett said. He added that both now have their jobs back.

Since January 2008, the city has cut its workforce by more than 80 people and asked many to take furlough days off. Members of the operating engineers union, the largest employee group on the city payroll, were asked to take 11 furlough days this past year.

The buyout package, on top of all the current city employee concessions, raised the eyebrows of some union representatives.

Dan Venters, a business representative for the Local 30 operating engineers union, asked the City Council on Monday to apply the buyout package evenly across all departments.

“Our employees want to make sure they get a fair shake,” Venters said as he spoke to the council under public comment.

The union covers about 250 employees, according to Venters. All full-time city employees can ask for the buyout.

City staff prepared projections estimating that 40 employees are expected to participate in the program. However, Syverson said she is estimating about 30 people will take advantage of the buyouts.

“We wanted to give options and be as friendly as possible,” Syverson said of the package.

The only requirement to apply for voluntary separation is that the person must be a full-time employee. After that, an employee must submit a form to the human resources department, sidestepping their department’s director.

According to buyout package documents, department executives and managers will be notified following the human resources department’s receipt of the application.

The manager will then be asked to evaluate the impact the employee’s separation would have on the department. That report will be submitted to the human resources manager and the city manager, who will then let the employee know if they can leave, or if they are too vital to the organization.

If approved, the employee could walk out the door with 75 percent of their base pay from this year. The payout could come in the form of a direct purchase of PERS (Public Employees Retirement System) Credit, a deferred compensation plan, cash, payment of health insurance premiums or any combination of the four.

Before the council voted on the buyout, Mayor Geno Martini looked out into the crowd at the handful of employees, like Leggett, who were awaiting a decision. His voice carried a tone of held-back tears.

“This is really painful,” Martini said. “At least I want to say it is voluntary. If it were not I think we would be looking at mandatory. I am assuming some of you are here because you will be involved in this program. I have seen you running around working for the city. It really pains me to see some of these faces today.”

Leggett walked out of the chambers with his wife, hopeful about retirement but worried about those city employees who are younger than him.

“I’m just worried about the next generation,” Leggett said. “What are they going to do?”
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