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Retirement plan one option for cut county jobs

LAWRENCEVILLE - The morning after commissioners approved deep budget cuts, county employees were lined up outside Kenneth Poe's office.

With 250 jobs in jeopardy, the director of human resources sent an e-mail to 316 people eligible for retirement in the next year.

Those people have been offered an incentive, including 20 percent additions to sick and annual leave payouts and a week of pay for every two years of service, to go on leave without pay until next July and then retire.

Officials are hoping enough people take the retirement offer for the county to avoid a large reduction in force.

With an Aug. 24 deadline for the eligible employees to retire, the need for layoffs could become more clear in the fall. Poe said he has been having meetings with employees because some changes in the business model could affect departments differently.

Today, he will meet with members of the tax assessor's office, where commercial assessments will be outsourced.

"With my own department, I'm faced with that as well," he said of restructuring forcing a reduction. "It's a very different mood around here because of that. A lot of people have told me they are in disbelief."

From his own experience joining the government after working in the private sector, Poe knows that one of the attractions of public jobs is the stability believed to be embedded in the job description.

"The demand for services is expected to always be there, but we are finding that isn't the case," he said. "People thought it wouldn't happen in busting, booming Gwinnett County."

So far, the retirement incentives have only been offered to departments reporting to the county administrator, but officials are working on new business plans to cut 9 percent of the budget in independently elected offices, including the tax commissioner, sheriff, district attorney, clerk of court and courts. Another 241 employees in those areas are eligible for the incentive, Poe said.

"People are concerned," he said of the mood at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. The county government is Gwinnett's second largest employer with about 4,700 on the payroll.

Even if people are able to hold onto their jobs, Poe said every county employee will feel the impact of the county's budget reductions.

Commissioners voted Tuesday to forgo any raises in 2010 while also increasing the employee's contribution to the defined benefit pension plan, the most popular plan for the staff, by 1.75 percent. Health premiums are also expected to rise.

"The employee would actually walk home with a net pay decrease," Poe said of the changes.