In the face of a $9 million budget deficit that could result in layoffs, the Amherst Town Board on Monday night approved a special buyout package that would give longtime, high-paid employees $20,000 to $30,000 to leave town service.
According to some board calculations, the buyout could save the town a minimum of $1.4 million in next year's budget.
Because of seniority protection for union members, motivating longtime, well-paid employees to leave typically requires buyout offers and early retirement programs. Longtime employees receive not only higher wages but also greater vacation benefits and bonus pay.
The board voted, 5-1, to approve a separation incentive after an hour of difficult negotiations that highlighted some board members' political animosities and involved rescinding votes at various points.
"All's well that ends well," said Council Member Mark Manna, who helped craft the buyout language with Human Resources Director Robert P. McCarthy. "This is something other municipalities have done, that the private sector has done."
Ultimately, the board voted to offer a separation incentive to employees of the Amherst Employees, Amherst Highway Employees and Civil Service Employees associations.
Council Member Guy Marlette voted against the resolution.
This is the first time the town has offered its own separation incentive instead of latching onto a state-sponsored early-retirement program. The board voted to limit the buyout to 20 employees on a first-come, first-served basis, though that number could be expanded if it desires.
Union leaders applauded the voluntary separation incentive as a way to avoid massive layoffs next year.
"We are looking forward to working with you and going with this," said Steve Floss, head of the Amherst Highway Employees Association, whose union members could be facing the brunt of layoffs proposed by Supervisor Satish Mohan.
To be eligible for a buyout offer, employees of these unions would need to have a minimum of 20 years of continuous, full-time permanent service with the town. These employees would be offered $1,000 for each year of service, up to a maximum payment of $30,000.
Employees who take the buyout and were hired prior to 1977 would continue to receive fully paid health insurance for life.
All buyout participants would have to leave town service by the end of the year. They would not be entitled to unemployment benefits, and their retirement benefits would not be affected.