Politics & Government

Macon-Bibb workers may get longer to decide on retiring

Long-serving Macon-Bibb County employees should have at least until the end of June to decide whether to take proposed incentives to retire, and they shouldn’t have to leave their jobs until the end of 2015, several Macon-Bibb commissioners said Tuesday.

Mayor Robert Reichert’s administration wants up to 200 longtime employees to retire soon, in an effort to cut the upcoming annual budget. There are 360 public workers eligible for retirement now, with most in the sheriff’s office and fire department.

About 50 people, mostly Macon-Bibb employees, showed up to listen to Tuesday’s discussion in the commission’s nonvoting work session.

Reichert urged workers not to expect an immediate decision from commissioners. They’re not trying to force anyone out but want to make retiring soon attractive, he said.

The government is seeking to trim perhaps $10 million from the budget that will be presented May 12 and must be approved by June 30. That’s necessitated by the imminent removal of the second half of the former Macon city property tax, Reichert said. The first half was removed last year, in the first budget after the city and county governments consolidated. Getting rid of the rest is vital in ending the “us vs. them mentality” that lingers between former city and county taxpayers, he said.

Assistant County Manager Charles Coney outlined several options: various financial incentives as well as offers for employees close to retirement to have a “bridge” of credit for their last one or two years of work. The draft proposal calls for commissioners to hold two required votes -- on April 7 and April 21 -- to create retirement incentives. Employees would be given from April 22 to May 31 to decide if they want to take advantage of them. Those who chose retirement in that window would leave work June 30, the end of the current fiscal year, allowing the government to save money in its upcoming budget.

But after hearing from several longtime employees and three department heads, Commissioners Mallory Jones, Elaine Lucas and Larry Schlesinger all indicated they want the employee decision period extended until at least June 30, and for the resulting retirements to take effect at the end of 2015 -- halfway through the upcoming fiscal year. Commissioners Gary Bechtel and Al Tillman were absent Tuesday.

But extending the retirement deadlines would cut into the savings, which are the point of offering incentives, Reichert said.

“We’d have more employees for half a year,” he said.

Reichert and County Manager Dale Walker have said that if retirements and other cost-cutting measures aren’t enough to make up for the loss of tax revenue, the other options are layoffs and/or some kind of tax hike.

Macon-Bibb has three retirement plans -- one active plan which new employees are enrolled in, one closed plan for former Macon police and firefighters and one closed plan for other former Macon employees -- so the incentives will vary depending on each plan’s provisions.

According to Coney’s presentation, draft ideas include:

increasing supplements given to some retirees;

increasing the multiplier used to calculate monthly pension payments;

offering a one-time bonus of $5,000 or $10,000, or two years of hospitalization insurance;

giving a year or two of credit to “bridge” employees nearing retirement eligibility.

A combination or choice of those incentives could be offered to members of each plan. Some of those incentive costs would be borne by the independent pension funds, not the Macon-Bibb budget.

Reichert stressed that while a $388 monthly insurance subsidy available to Bibb County retirees over age 65 might temporarily become available to others as an incentive -- perhaps in a lower amount -- that does not threaten its availability to current recipients.

“We are not, underline not, talking about taking it away from anyone who is currently getting it,” he said.

Reichert has unsuccessfully proposed setting a cutoff date for new retirees to qualify for that incentive, but he hasn’t suggested ending it entirely.

Commissioner Scotty Shepherd said that $388 subsidy was promised to Bibb County employees. A deadline for new recipients will need to be set eventually, but it wouldn’t be fair to take the subsidy from anyone already receiving it, he said.

Bibb County Sheriff David Davis, his chief of staff David Montford, sheriff’s Capt. Andra Grinstead and Fire Chief Marvin Riggins all asked for a longer decision period for employees. They also asked for postponing retirement dates until the end of the calendar year. It will take time to train replacements for some senior positions, Davis and Riggins said. Grinstead and Montford said individual circumstances may make it tough for people to decide within a few weeks on something that will affect the rest of their lives.

Human Resources Director Ben Hubbard said when incentive packages are approved, he plans to give detailed information to all eligible employees and hold meetings to answer any questions.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.