LOWVILLE — Twenty Lewis County employees volunteered to be furloughed — most beginning Monday — saving the county more than $141,000 over the next 11 weeks.
The volunteers came from five county departments, with the highest number, eight, at the Department of Social Services, followed by the Highway Department, Office for the Aging, Buildings and Grounds and Law Departments. The individuals were working between 14 and 40 hours weekly at hourly rates ranging from $12.63 to $26.12.
Two employees were allowed to do a 10-week furlough and will start on May 25, to allow them to finish or assign their workloads.
“We did it [the furloughs] so quickly some need to finalize or pass cases and files to peers,” said the county Director of Human Resources Caitlyn Smith.
The total wages combined for those on unpaid leave over the period will be $144,459, but the county share of unemployment is estimated to be $3,320, making the net savings $141,139. County Manager Ryan Piche said state and federal reimbursement rates will impact that figure.
People on unpaid leave through this program will be eligible for both unemployment and the $600 weekly COVID-related unemployment and will retain their health insurance and status in the retirement system.
At the end of last week, 23 people had volunteered for the program, however, department heads had to vet the volunteers to ensure that all services would still be covered.
Legislators voted two weeks ago to furlough up to 26 employees across all departments for a savings of about $139,000, and entered into an agreement with the local CSEA union last week making it possible for the furloughs to go forward.
The state Department of Labor’s Shared Work Program, anticipated to save the county about $177,000, will be next for the board to consider.
In that program, employees would have their hours cut between 20 and 60 percent weekly when they aren’t needed, but they would be eligible for partial unemployment for the hours cut.
Budget shortfall due to the loss of sales tax revenue since the COVID-19 shutdown began in March is estimated to be $5 million for the county.