Deadline Aug. 5 for state job buyouts

Posted By | July 31, 2008 12:00 am

State of Tennessee employees wait for the verdict about who has been approved for proposed buyouts and who will be laid off because of a budget shortfall.

Kim Swindell Wood
State employees are waiting for the next step in the governor’s plan of how to cut the budget with a deadline of Aug. 5 for those who want to voluntarily participate in a buyout program.
A shortfall in state revenues for the end of last fiscal year and for the upcoming year caused Gov. Phil Bredesen to formulate what has been dubbed the Volunteer Buyout Program. The buyouts were part of cuts totaling $468 million in the state budget.
Approximately 12,000 state employees were sent buyout packages outlining incentives for them to go voluntarily leave their jobs with “a bird in hand” instead of waiting to see if they would be among the 2,200 that would be laid off, which would leave them with only unemployment compensation.  Most voluntary separations will occur Aug. 15, 2008.
Buyout program benefits include:
•Four months of base salary at the greater of the rate of pay in effect on June 2, 2008, or the employee’s voluntary separation date, plus $500 for every year of state service through the employee’s voluntary separation date.
•Advanced payment of the next scheduled longevity payment, calculated according to normal state practice, as long as the payment accrues on or before June 30, 2009.
•Normal payment of accrued unused annual leave and compensatory time.
 •Continuation of subsidized medical care coverage for the first six months of COBRA medical coverage, should the employee be eligible and elect to participate in COBRA. After that, participants will be responsible for the full COBRA premium for up to 12 additional months.
•Participants 65 years of age and older as of their voluntary separation date will receive a one-time $2,400 cash payment to assist in the transition to Medicare.
•Tuition assistance of up to $10,800 ($5,400 per year) at the schools, institutions and entities governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees, as well as state certified apprenticeship programs. Tuition assistance benefits begin August 16, 2008, and may only be used for courses that begin before June 30, 2011. GED classes are also available through the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Career Centers, and testing fees will be covered under the tuition assistance benefit.
Around Sept. 15, buyout benefits checks will be mailed to those who are accepted.
One of the departments that will be affected is Tennessee Highway Patrol.
The Cookeville District of THP includes White, Putnam, Fentress, Overton, Pickett, Cumberland, Van Buren, Cannon, DeKalb, Smith, Warren, Clay, Jackson, Macon and Trousdale counties.
Nine lieutenant positions in the district qualify for the buyout. Only one application had been submitted as of Wednesday.
There are 13 sergeant positions that qualify, with only one application submitted.
A total of 452 THP employees qualify for the buyout, but only 79 have submitted their applications.
According to a reported submitted by Tennessee Department of Safety, 45 positions can be eliminated from THP.
Tennessee Highway Patrol identified 15 groups for participation in the Voluntary Buy-Out Program. The groups were determined based on an overall impact on THP and the daily functions of individual sections.
The report indicates adjustments will be made in the following areas: aircraft mechanic; command staff; communication dispatch supervisors; ranks of sergeant, lieutenant and captain; and administrative secretaries. The reported stated eliminating these positions would result in restructuring supervisory and management responsibilities.
Troopers and dispatchers were not considered for the VBP because, according to the report, eliminating these positions would have a negative impact on the primary responsibilities of the department.    
There are now three lieutenant colonel positions. The plan indicates the department could run effectively with only two. The elimination of the third lieutenant colonel position would move those supervisory duties to the majors in the east and west field operations bureaus. Their added responsibilities would be to oversee the district captains in their respective bureaus.
One lieutenant position will be eliminated from each of the eight THP enforcement districts. All lieutenants within a district will be eligible to submit their names for the VBP. Personnel will be shifted and troop boundaries will be adjusted to provide a smooth transition and continuation of the same services and operations.
One sergeant position will be eliminated from each of the eight districts. Sergeants are the immediate supervisors for troopers and usually command troopers in one to three counties. According to the report, seven is the ideal number of troopers to be under the command of a sergeant. However, the report said a higher number can be effectively supervised by one sergeant if they are in a smaller geographical area. Therefore, the department will adjust their grouping of counties and areas.
Nine communication dispatch supervisor positions were eligible for the buyout, and all of these employees submitted their applications. However, these jobs were scheduled to be eliminated the submitted plan. If these supervisors had not chosen the VBP, they would be moved into vacant Dispatcher 2 positions within their respective districts.
According to Mike Browning, director/public information officer for THP, no final decisions have been made as to how THP will revamp its department.

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