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Wadena County hopes early retirement incentives help budget

The Wadena County Board approved an early retirement incentive plan as a way for the county to deal with difficult economic times.

The goal of the plan is to replace higher wage long-term employees with employees on a lower step. Reducing hours for positions and not replacing positions are other options, said Paul Sailer, the county's human services director. With any plan, personnel costs must be reduced by a minimum of 25 percent over three years.

The county will pay out $10,000 to $20,000 prorated for part-time employees. Full-time employees who have worked 10 years for the county will receive $10,000. An additional $1,000 will be added for each additional year of employment up to a maximum $20,000.

Non-elected employees meeting certain age and service requirements are eligible for the plan. Department heads are not eligible. County employees who chose the incentives must leave their jobs on or before Dec. 31. They cannot return to employment with the county for a period of three years following their retirement or resignation, according to the agreement.

Commissioner Bill Stearns expressed concern about cash flow problems if a lot of eligible employees accept the plan and get a cash payout at the beginning of the year. He voted against the plan.

Commissioner Lane Waldahl also expressed concern about the plan. He asked how department heads could guarantee that positions with reduced hours wouldn't eventually need to be expanded back up to 40 hours again.

Sailer said they need to hit the goal of reducing costs by 25 percent while maintaining program effectiveness.

"We believe this is a good move for the county," he said.

Highway Engineer Joel Ulring said the committee would not have recommended the early retirement option if they didn't think it would save the county money.

Neighboring counties have struggled with the bad economy in different ways, Sailer said. Otter Tail County is not filling a number of vacancies. Crow Wing County had lay-offs and implemented an early retirement plan.

Wadena County reached an agreement with employees for no wage or health benefit increase, Sailer said. And the early retirement plan is a singular event to deal with unusually bad economic circumstances.

The plan was implemented Sept. 18 and employees have 45 days to respond.