Cowlitz County is offering early retirement and separation buyouts to employees as officials work to bridge a $4 million budget gap for 2014.
“The budget being what it is this year, we’re giving the staff the opportunity of helping to reduce our staff,” Commissioner Jim Misner said.
The program, approved Tuesday, offers employees incentives if they agree to leave county employment early. The payments are based on the number of years the employees have worked for the county. The program will pay $1,000 for every year up to 15 and $750 for every year thereafter. There’s a maximum payment cap of $26,250.
For now, the offer is only for the county’s 168 nonunion employees. Union contracts prevent such an offer to the 351 employees who are members of a bargaining group. Commissioners said, however, that they would offer buyouts as an option to unions during the next round of contract negotiations.
Employees must apply for the voluntary buyout program by Oct. 23. Only those positions that will save the county money will be approved, Misner said. Employees who take the buyout cannot apply for county jobs for at least three years. If they do return to full time county employment before then, they must repay a prorated amount of the buyout.
The county is facing a $4 million budget shortfall for 2014 and officials have said as many as 40 jobs may have to be cut to balance the books. Commissioners said they hoped the early retirement offer will help make cuts without having to lay off as many workers.
Buyouts were last offered in 2009, when another round of layoffs were used to balance the budget.