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County hopes retirement incentive helps cut costs

Merced County is looking into offering employees an incentive to retire early as a possible way to cut costs in the midst of the state budget crisis.

The county leaders are asking their employees to tell say if they’d be willing to retire by Dec. 31 in exchange for an extra two years of service added into their pension.

Employees until April 18 to decide and a study based on the results will begin afterward. The analysis will be presented to the board in July.

The county offered an early retirement incentive four years ago, amid another state budget shortfall, which saved $1.1 million.

Two extra years of service could translate into 4 to 6 percent more on an employee’s lifetime pension. It would also take them off the payroll and lead to vacant positions that would be frozen until 2010.

Already, the possible golden handshake has sparked some controversy from people suspicious of the motives behind it because the benefit, if approved, would be also extended to top-level managers who’ve already announced their retirement.

Additionally, Supervisor John Pedrozo’s wife and county CEO Dee Tatum’s wife both work for the county and would be eligible for the benefit, should a program be approved.

County spokesman Mark Hendrickson said if a plan came for a vote, the county would take steps to make sure there weren’t any conflict of interests.

Any plan must be offered to all employees, whether they’ve announced their retirement or not, to be fair. “Otherwise,” Hendrickson noted, “it could be viewed as some sort of discriminatory act.”Merced Councilman John Carlisle, who noted he wasn’t representing the city, criticized the plan at Tuesday’s meeting, stating that personal agendas and greed could come before saving taxpayer money.