Nearly 200 go for early retirement in Cobb

Nearly 200 employees have signed up to take an early retirement incentive from Cobb County, including Cobb's police chief.

The retirement incentive, which ends March 30, is a major cost-saving move by the county to slash payroll in light of an expected lean budget in 2011.

County Commission Chairman Sam Olens said Cobb should be able to maintain a balanced budget with the same millage rate next year due to the success of the early retirement program.

The county estimates that if 200 people take the buyout -- the count was at 197 Friday -- the county would save about $10 million per year.

The county will have refill police and fire positions that are vacated.

"We'll replace the public safety positions," said Brad Bowers, the county's director of finance. "That's what county government is all about -- public safety."

But the longer other positions are left open, the more the county will save.

Cobb Police Chief George Hatfield decided to take early retirement after 38 years with the county.

Bowers himself plans to take the retirement, after about 28 years with the county. Bob Ash, the head of the county's public services department which includes parks and recreation, will also take the package after about 31 years of working for Cobb.

"The retirement  incentive package is working as expected and some of our more senior, higher-paid employees are going into retirement now," county spokesman Robert Quigley said.

Cobb is also looking at its bus system and will consider cutting one bus route and restricting hours of operation on another route,  Quigley said.

The county's road building program will continue at a reduced level as long as sales tax revenues roll in at the same rate.