BALLSTON SPA -- Saratoga County officials are exploring a new early-retirement incentive program they say could be used to reorganize departments and cut costs, although there are concerns operations could suffer if too many employees leave at once.
Supervisors who sit on the county's personnel committee were told this month about a pair of new programs authorized by state lawmakers earlier this year in an effort to help local governments save money amid dwindling revenues and rising expenses.
The programs allow public employees who are at least 55 years old and have at least 25 years of services to retire early without penalty. Employees who are already eligible to retire, or are at least 50 years old and have earned 10 years of retirement credit, can also qualify for an extra month of credit for each year of service, up to three years.
Typically, employees have to earn 30 years of service credit to retire without penalty.
All local governments and school districts are being given the option of offering the programs to their employees. If all eligible government employees accepted the offers, the savings could reach $320 million across the state over the next two years, state budget officials said.
In Saratoga County, officials say 413 of their 1,035 employees qualify for the early retirement program.
In June, a survey was conducted that showed 172 of those employees were considering the options and wanted more information.
Those who said they were not interested were likely dissuaded by the fact that they must spend at least 10 years with the county before qualifying for health care in their retirement, said John Kalinkewicz, the county's director of personnel.
Employees could have accumulated service credit while working for another local government, but still must work for at least 10 years at the county to qualify for health benefits, he said.
Kalinkewicz said between 50 and 70 of the county's employees would likely retire early if given the chance. His estimate is based on a virtually identical program that was offered in 2002, when 46 of 381 eligible county employees opted to retire early.
Depending on how many people ultimately retired early, the county could end up having to make a one-time, lump sum payment of around $3 million next year. The savings, though, could be as much as $3.6 million.
Long-term savings will depend on how many of the jobs are vacated are left unfilled.
Officials have identified as many as 15 positions that could be eliminated, though no final decisions have been made and a reorganizational review is ongoing. Hiring a new employee at a base wage is only expected to save the county, on average, around $10,000 a year.
"The key part of the long-term savings is consolidation of positions," said Bill Peck, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors, who asked for a review of potential savings after the incentive program was passed.
A local law must be passed by the end of August in order for the program to be adopted. A public hearing is being scheduled for late August, and the full board of supervisors could vote on it at their following meeting.
County employees would then be given until the end of the year to decide whether or not they want to take the early-retirement package.
Some supervisors have expressed concerns that long-term employees, including a number of department heads, could be lost in the retirement incentives were offered. But Wilton supervisor Art Johnson, the chair of the county's personnel committee, said he had few worries county operations would continue unabated.
"We've still got a lot of people with a lot of experience, so it's not as if the departments won t be able to function," Johnson said.
Peck also said he thinks it's important for employees to at least have the option and for the county to look for cost-savings anywhere they can be found.
"Any organization, whether it's a business or a government, has to continually look to see what they can do better and where they can cut costs," he said.
This year, around 8 percent of the county's $280 million budget is being spent on government administration.