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O.C. Looks Into Early Retirement : Budget: Supervisors order study to determine how many county workers would qualify.

September 15, 1993|KEVIN JOHNSON and GEOFF BOUCHER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SANTA ANA — Continuing its search for budget savings, the Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday called for a study to determine how many county employees would qualify for early retirement.

Supervisor Roger R. Stanton, in stinging criticism of the county's efforts to reduce its 17,000-member work force, said that retirement incentives were not provided in all county agencies this year, at a time when administrators were forced to send some 80 layoff notices to employees and make service cuts totaling more than $150 million.

"My attitude is, 'What are you waiting for?' " Stanton said, addressing his remarks to County Administrative Officer Ernie Schneider. "We're going to have to make some real hard decisions. All departments should be offered this tool."

"There seems to be a basic forgetfulness among the county leaders at one level or another, in particular in the County Administrative Office, that the Board of Supervisors is in fact the executive decision-making body," Stanton added after the meeting. "They take it upon themselves to sit back and make these decisions. So I wanted us to highlight for them that this is a tool that is available and should be used."

Supervisors Stanton and Gaddi H. Vasquez said the county should not be waiting for the outcome of November's election on the extension of a half-cent sales tax to begin making budget preparations. Should the extension fail in a statewide vote, Orange County stands to lose about $130 million annually from its general fund.

Supervisors Vasquez and William G. Steiner supported Stanton's directive, urging that local government follow the lead of the private sector in responding to hard economic times.

"Wouldn't it be prudent to start the process now?" Vasquez asked. "We need to be more aggressive. For people to take advantage of the opportunity, the opportunity has to be made available."

Tuesday's particularly heated discussion came as two of the county's largest agencies--Environmental Management and General Services--announced additional cuts from their departments this year.

As presented Tuesday, the reductions would save the county more than $2.5 million and mean the elimination of 35 county government positions.

Tuesday's move to delete 25 positions from Environmental Management, for an annual savings of $1.5 million, is part of an overall 13% staffing reduction at the agency. The cutbacks have resulted in the elimination of 204 positions and a total savings of more than $15 million since 1991-92.

During that same time period, General Services has reduced its staff by 125 positions, for an overall savings of about $4.2 million.

In calling for the early retirement review, Stanton expressed concern that other departments had not taken advantage of early retirement incentives when cuts were made during the past budget year.

Last year, management-level employees were the only class of workers to be offered early retirement across the board. County departments were able to use the incentives only sparingly because of increased demand on most county staff.

County Budget Director Ronald S. Rubino said that 63 employees took early retirement last year, resulting in an estimated savings of $3 million annually in salaries and benefits.

Earlier this year, officials estimated that at least 2,000 employees qualified for retirement under county guidelines that employees must be at least 50 and have worked 10 years for the county.

Officials said the review would attempt to determine how many of those employees could qualify for early retirement under new state legislation. The law requires that early retirement offers not cost the county any money after the price of buyouts is factored in.

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