Retirement sign-ups help DeKalb avoid layoffs

DeKalb County employees can keep their jobs for now.

Figures released to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday show enough county workers signed up for early retirement, avoiding the immediate threat of layoffs.

As of Monday, 828 workers had applied for early retirement, said Shelia Edwards, spokeswoman for the county CEO. If those numbers stay firm, the county will not move forward with layoffs, Edwards said.

DeKalb offered the early retirement program to help with a $100 million shortfall in this year’s budget. County commissioners said that if less than 550 workers took the buyout, layoffs would follow.

“That definitely decreases the pressure for layoffs,” Commissioner Lee May told the AJC on Monday. “Early retirement wasn’t going to be the complete solution, but I don’t think at this point we have to take that leap [layoffs].”

The final determination for layoffs won’t be made until the commission looks at a staffing study that Georgia State University is now completing for DeKalb.

“We still have to look at restructuring government,” May said.

About 30 county workers will lose their job when the county approves a contract to outsource development services. However, the majority of them will be rehired by the contractor, according to Jabari Simama, the CEO's chief of staff.

The deadline to sign up for the early retirement was Friday. Employees have seven days to change their minds and reject the retirement, Edwards said.

Once the final number of employees is determined next week, officials will look at how the retirements will impact county services, particularly public safety.

At 85, the Sheriff’s Department had more employees take the package than any other county department. The Police Department is losing 82 employees, and the Fire and Rescue Department is losing 76.

All of the sworn positions in those departments will have to be refilled, May said.

“They are key positions, but we will be able to refill at a lower salary,” he said.

Many of the sheriff’s retirees are in the upper ranks, including three of the four majors, several lieutenants and most of the sergeants. Earlier this month, Sheriff Thomas Brown told commissioners he was concerned about staffing in the jail, since all of the supervisors will be new.

The other departments likely will not be permitted to rehire.

“We need to force the departments to restructure and reorganize,” May said. “The administration will have to come and justify why they are needed.”

Finance Department records show the county is looking at losing 84 workers in Watershed Management, 68 in Sanitation and 53 in Roads and Drainage.

The package allows employees who are 50 years or older the option to retire early without a penalty. Employees with 25 years of service who are not 50 are also able to leave early. Two extra years of service were added to their retirement package.

About 1,200 of the county’s 8,000 workers were eligible.