EVERETT — With a nearly $11 million budget gap looming, the city of Everett is offering buyouts to more than 300 employees to reduce the workforce. Payroll is one of the city’s biggest expenses.
“The goal is to provide an incentive for those team members willing to voluntarily separate employment, which may help reduce the potential for significant staff reductions in the future,” said Meghan Pembroke, an executive director in the mayor’s office, in an email.
In the 2019 budget, 13 city positions were cut — three of which were occupied at the time — saving the city about $1.7 million, according to the mayor’s office. The city employs about 1,200 people.
A voluntary separation incentive was a suggestion repeatedly heard from staff, Mayor Cassie Franklin said. The City Council approved the buyout plan in December.
“I felt very strongly that we needed to offer this opportunity, particularly as we still face a structural deficit,” Franklin said in an email.
The program is open to part- and full-time employees who have been with the city at least 10 years and are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). The union, which represents more than 400 city workers, is affiliated with the Washington State Council of County and City Employees.
People appointed by the mayor, such as department heads, also may participate, but police officers and firefighters cannot.
In all, about 330 people are eligible, according to Pembroke. Those who choose to sign up must leave by the end of March.
Participants would have three buyout options: enrollment in the city’s self-insured medical plan for 18 months; a contribution equal to 18 months of insurance coverage; or a one-time payment based on current salary and years of service.
Anyone who returns to work at the city within five years would be required to repay the separation money.
The city offered a similar program in 2004.
Separation incentives were more common during the recession, said Michael Rainey, a representative of AFSCME who works with Everett employees.
“In January of 2019 the city of Everett seems to be the outlier,” he said.
The early buyouts target people at the higher end of the pay scale and who have larger benefit packages, Rainey said.
He called the offer fair.
“One of the things that holds people up from retiring is the cost of medical insurance,” he said. For those close to retirement, Rainey said, the package could get them over the hump until they qualify for medicare.
The city earlier proposed a change to the health insurance plan for AFSCME employees. In August, those workers, whose contract expires at the end of this year, voted down renegotiating current medical benefits, Rainey said.
An city study of a sample group of workers — near or eligible for retirement — found the buyout program could cost the city in the short-term: The city determined 14 percent of incentive packages could result in a net loss in 2019.
Overall, the mayor’s office expects that the program will save the city money.
The mayor’s office says the buyouts will allow the city to reorganize departments to make more them more efficient.
Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; email@example.com; Twitter: @lizzgior.