June 15--WENATCHEE -- Under the threat of layoffs, Wenatchee police and firefighters have agreed to early retirements, unpaid furloughs and increased medical insurance premiums.
The buyouts and insurance concessions, announced Thursday, move Wenatchee and its unions closer to Mayor Frank Kuntz's goal of trimming $1.5 million from the city's budget. But it's not clear if the moves are enough to prevent all the layoffs -- 16 -- the mayor has said he would impose Aug. 1.
Kuntz announced plans about a month ago to cut the city's annual budget, largely due to shrinking revenues, increasing employee costs and Town Toyota Center. He initially asked the city's three unions, which represent about 140 of the city's 180 employees, to voluntarily agree to pay more for medical insurance premiums. But when they did not collectively agree to do it, he decided on a plan that would lay off three police officers, one police records clerk, eight firefighters, and four of the five employees at the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center.
At the same time, he invited the unions to offer alternatives to the layoffs that would achieve lasting cuts to city expenses.
The unions then asked the mayor to consider an early retirement buyout to entice employees nearing the end off their careers to leave early. Kuntz said the city settled on $15,000 for the buyouts because that's about what the city would have to pay for unemployment wages to the employees.
The Wenatchee Police Guild will also supplement each of the two retiring police officers with another $5,000 that will be generated from unpaid days off taken by the 37 officers represented by the union, said Guild President Rick Johnson.
The two officers -- Sgt. Ken Britt and Cpl. Mike Huffer -- have already submitted their resignations, Johnson said. Two of the three officers that received layoff notices last month will now be notified that their jobs are safe, he added.
In addition, Doris Dunbar, a 25-year records clerk for the Police Department, will take an early retirement, which will negate the layoff of another records clerk.
In the Fire Department, Batallion Chief Mike Price and firefighter Rick Buchanan have agreed to the buyout, stopping at least two layoffs in their department.
Kuntz said the fire union, Wenatchee Firefighters Local 453, has asked to meet with him next week to talk about additional concessions that could prevent some of the six remaining planned layoffs in the fire department.
"They've asked to open their contract," the mayor said. "We'll have to see what concessions they offer before we know more."
Union President Capt. Kelly Lindemann said today that firefighters will offer to pay more for their insurance premiums for the rest of this year. The city now pays 100 percent of employee premiums and 90 percent of dependents' premiums, and firefighters will agree to reduce that to 90 percent for themselves and 75 percent for their families, he said. That is what the mayor had initially asked them to do last month.
Lindemann said the union will ask the city to switch to a new insurance plan next year that would save employees and the city money.
He said that between the two early retirements and the insurance concession, the unions hopes to avoid any layoffs in the fire department this year.
"I think we can get there," he said. "We're going to stay at the (negotiating) table until we do. ... I think the mayor has shown a complete willingness to work with us on this."
Kuntz also said Thursday that all four of the museum employees being laid off will be hired on a part-time basis by the Wenatchee Valley Museum Association, the nonprofit division of the museum. The city will pay money to the association to help out.
Michelle McNiel: 664-7152
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