City of Savannah lays off 57 employees

By Don Logana - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The City of Savannah, implementing plans from the 2011 budget, has started downsizing.

Last month, WTOC learned more than 80 positions would be cut from the budget. Last week,  57 people learned they would be getting laid off.

This is the first layoffs in more than two decades for the city, which has now put a crunch on department heads and human resources as they try and relocate employees.

"You really feel bad telling someone you did a good job, but, your job is not here anymore," Joe Shearouse, City of Savannah Leisure Services, told WTOC.

Shearouse has been with the City of Savannah since 1983. Almost half of the 57 employees laid off were from his department. He's losing 24 workers in all.

"It's difficult being the one who has to tell them because I know all these people. We work together," he said.

The cuts were not unexpected, as budget sessions late last year identified 89 positions which would not be funded in 2011. The list was finalized last week, eliminating a cross-section of workers, from part-time employees all the way up to administration.

"There are some who have been here a couple years. There are some who have been here 20 or 30 years. It's a little bit of everything," Shearouse said.

"Some employees were expecting it. Some it was a surprise," Beth Robinson, City of Savannah Human Resources, told WTOC.

In 17 years with the city in human resources, Robinson says lay-offs have been avoided in the past.

"Never before. Never in my tenure have we had to lay off employees," she said.

Now, her office is working with all 57 employees to try and find them a new job within the city. Robinson says each employee will have a human resources analyst who will go over skill sets, resumes, and match them up with available, vacant jobs.

As part of the downsizing and streamlining effort by the city, 550 employees are eligible for early retirement, which they belive could help in relocating workers.

"It may not be doing what they do right now, but if they have any background in any related field, we will try and place them," Robinson said

"That's the key. If someone retires it opens up a position, but who will be eligible for that position," Shearouse said.

Laid off workers will stay on with the city for 45 days, but Shearouse says citizens shouldn't notice a difference in services.

"We're just going to have to work a little bit harder to cover up and catch up," he said.

In the meantime, Shearouse is assuring his workers he will do everything he can to help them find a new job.

The city is offering an early retirement program to more than 500 workers. The city hopes at least 150 to 200 people accept early retirement to open up positions, possibly for laid off workers. However, as of Tuesday, only 12 employees have accepted, with 125 appointments set up to discuss the option.

If an employee cannot be relocated they will receive one weeks pay for every year of service with the city as severance.

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