During the 45 days that began June 4, all Town of Oro Valley employees can confidentially inquire about voluntary severance and early retirement packages, the town council voted last Wednesday.

Those with less than five years of town employment can receive 60 days of severance pay and benefits if they decide to leave their positions. Those with more than five years can get 90 days of pay with benefits.

Wednesday's vote was 5-2, with Mayor Paul Loomis and Councilman Kenneth "KC" Carter voting against it. Paula Abbott, Barry Gillaspie, Salette Latas, Bill Garner and Al Kunisch were in the affirmative.

Garner proposed making the offer. Workers have into mid-July to accept voluntary severance or early retirement.

"It's giving them the opportunity, the open door possibility, to come to human resources confidentially to discuss their options," Garner said. "It's an opportunity to control their own destiny."

On May 27, the council voted 4-3 to use $584,000 in reserves to cover the cost of keeping 16.25 full-time equivalent employees, thereby avoiding any layoffs in the fiscal year that begins July 1. The move, pushed by Loomis, drew strong objections from Latas, Garner and Gillaspie, and was done without consultation with Town Manager David Andrews.

"Last Wednesday, we had a rather unique event," Garner said as he offered the voluntary severance alternative.

"Do we have a defined severance package?" Loomis asked Andrews. "Do we have an early retirement package?"

When Oro Valley faced the prospect of laying off more than 30 people earlier in the budgeting process, Andrews said management had talked about 30- and 60-day packages. Early retirement "would have cost us more to get them to retire than we would have actually saved," Andrews said.

Loomis encouraged the development of voluntary severance and early retirement policies. "The efforts this year are minor compared to what we're going to go through next year," he said.

"I don't really feel comfortable with this action," said Abbott, who was then swayed by the notion of "empowering our employees."

In crafting its 2009-10 fiscal budget, the town of Marana asked employees to voluntarily resign, take early retirement, shift to vacant positions, work fewer hours and donate to the general fund. Those voluntary contributions saved $497,000 in next year's budget.

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