But for longtime Sparks city employee Wade Walker, a senior supervisor in the Sparks parks maintenance department, early retirement presents a chance to help his community and potentially save the jobs of fellow workers.
“I’m not a martyr but this is a budget crisis and this may help less-tenured employees to have a career like I did,” Walker said. “I do know that, if the separation helps, simple math tells me it will help people at the bottom of the food chain.”
Walker and other senior employees are hanging up their hats next month. On Jan. 14, 2010, after 29 years of government employment, Walker’s voluntary separation package takes effect. It includes 75 percent of one year’s salary plus any accumulated annual and sick leave. Along with Walker, Parks and Recreation operations supervisor Brian Bessette has accepted the city’s buyout plan. As the city's 2010 budget deficit looms ahead, 39 city employees have been accepted for the plan helping to chip away at the shortfall.
After completing high school, Walker started his career in 1980 as a temporary employee in the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. A brief stint at the area’s regional sewage treatment plant ended when Walker accepted a full-time job back in the parks department. He rose through the ranks and is now a senior supervisor in parks maintenance.
Walker would not specify his future plans after taking the buyout and leaving his job.
“I’ve always enjoyed the work. I’ll miss the people,” Walker said. “I think I’m leaving the best staff in the state.”
Walker explained how budget cuts and layoffs have impacted the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Seasonal workers have been slashed from 50 down to one per year, shifting more of the workload to Walker’s remaining 20 full-timers. The extra work leaves a backlog of maintenance on 500 acres of park grass and around 10,000 city trees. Parks and recreation crews must also work as needed to help set up for, and clean up after, special events such as the Sparks Hometowne Farmers Market, which draws thousands to downtown on Thursday nights every summer.
“Our full-time staff, we’re relegated to do refuse (garbage) pickup,” Walker explained. “If there’s trash, it’s the first thing people see. There’s no job that’s beneath anybody around here.”
Walker applauded the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department’s community service work program. Instead of paying fines, violators can work off their misdemeanor tickets with jobs like sprucing up downtown Sparks, the Sparks Marina and other parks at little or no cost to the city.
“That’s very important — a huge amount of bang for our buck,” Walker explained. “It fills a void in our maintenance.”
As other crews cleared roadways on Wednesday, Walker’s crews were clearing snow from public parking lots, trails and walkways. Sidewalks and parking lots around the Sparks Senior Center, Reed High and downtown Sparks were cleared to help keep seniors, students and the general public safe. Walker equated the value of his crews to that of police and firefighters whose mission is protecting public health and safety.
“But people talk only about fire and police,” said Walker, admitting he’s not shy about expressing his concerns. “I never see much in the papers about the other departments involving public safety.”
Walker worries that employee retirement plans could be changed or that the city could pull anticipated retirement funds out from under other city employees.
“I just think that, whatever the rules are, if you begin employment based on a promise, that (promise) should remain valid,” Walker said.
“It (the city budget) is a crisis but one of the good things is people have learned to be more effective,” Walker added. “At the end of the crisis, I think those left behind will be able to give more for the money.”