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Wadena County pays employees to walk away

Five Wadena County employees have accepted an early retirement incentive plan designed to save the county money by replacing higher wage long-term employees with employees on a lower step.

The departments will have to replace the positions with at least a 25 percent savings to the county. Discussion about the savings for replacing the specific positions has already begun at the county board level.

Three of the retirements are at social services and two are at the highway department.

Social services employees Ramona Jean Stokes, financial supervisor, and Beverly Savaloja, accounting technician, are retiring Dec. 31, and Sheila Henstorf, financial specialist, is retiring Dec. 4. In the highway department, Jay Baarstad, engineering and the Menahga shop, retired effective Nov. 6 and Alvin Schwartz of the Sebeka shop is retiring with a date of Dec. 31.

A committee of five department heads developed the plan. Around 35 county employees were eligible for the buy out.

The county agreed to pay out $10,000 to $20,000 based on the length of employment. The amount was prorated for part-time employees. Full-time employees who have worked 10 years for the county will receive $10,000. And $1,000 is added for each additional year of employment for a maximum of $20,000.

Baarstad served the county for 31 years and Schwartz served the county for 21 years, according to the highway department.

All three of the social services employees worked for the county for more than 20 years, said Paul Sailer, the county's human services director, and are eligible for the $20,000.

The social services department will be able to find substantial savings, Sailer said. He expects it to be in excess of the 25 percent savings required by the early retirement plan. The social services board will discuss options for replacing the positions at its November meeting, he said. Options include filling the positions with lower wage employees or replacing part of their time.

Jeff Adolphson, the interim head of the highway department, told Wadena County commissioners at their Nov. 3 meeting he hopes to have one of the maintenance positions filled by Dec. 1. More than 200 people had already applied, he said.

Commissioner Rodney Bounds asked Adolphson what step he was considering for the position.

Adolphson said the department would hire at or near entry level. They will have to evaluate on a case by case basis, he said.

Commissioner Ralph Miller said it would be highly counterproductive for the county to hire anyone at higher than step 1 regardless of their experience considering the early retirement plan is intended to save the county money.

Chairman Dave Schermerhorn was concerned about the advertisement for the position stating a pay range with the wage depending on experience. The county needs to go by that, too, when hiring for the position, he said.

"How do you take a guy with 10 years experience [and] start him at the bottom?" Schermerhorn asked.

Bounds said the county could make that known to applicants during the interview process. Applicants have the option of backing out, he said.

Commissioner Bill Stearns moved to put a limit of step 2 for the position, which would give Adolphson a little leeway.

Commissioners Lane Waldahl, Stearns, and Schermerhorn voted in favor of the motion and commissioners Miller and Bounds voted against it.

The board accepted Baarstad's resignation, but decided to hold off accepting Schwartz's until the period to rescind the agreement is over. Employees have 15 days from the date of signing the agreement to change their mind and opt out of the plan. Baarstad waived the waiting period, according to Auditor and Treasurer Char West.