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31 accept retirement incentives
Marks first phase of cutting development, water positions

LAWRENCEVILLE - To avoid layoffs, 31 employees in Gwinnett's departments of planning and development and water resources accepted retirement incentives by Friday's deadline.

According to Human Resources Director Kenneth Poe, only five of those employees were accepting early retirement, which means they will go on unpaid leave until their eligible retirement date.

The move is the first phase of a plan to cut 79 positions in the development division, as construction in the suburban county has dropped drastically, and 14 positions in the water reclamation division because of the closing of a sewage plant.

"In my view it was successful," Poe said, pointing first to the water employees, where the county is cutting 14 positions. "I'm fairly confident we'll be able to place most of the employees (currently) at that plant, but no guarantees."

Because a hiring freeze caused 12 vacancies in the planning and development department already, the retirements may leave 47 positions subject to layoffs.

Officials will now move on to the second phase of the layoffs, determining whether the people who will retire must be replaced because of a critical job position and determining staffing changes to fill those. Then, officials will determine which positions will be eliminated.

Officials expect the cuts, which will slash the Planning and Development Department's staff in half, will save $4.5 million in 2009 and $5.9 million the following year.

It is the first cut announced after officials called for a major study intent on cutting $35 million from the government's expenses. The results are expected to be released in the next month.

"It's exactly what we needed to happen," Poe said. "We're right on target with moving on to the second phase."

Of the 27 people eligible in the development division, 20 accepted the retirement incentives, Poe said. In water resources, 11 of the 24 employees eligible accepted the deal.

The retirement incentives included an additional 20 percent pay-out of sick leave and vacation accrued, one week of pay for every two years of service and waiving health care premiums for 24 months. The money, on average, amounts to about 35 percent of base pay.