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Severance packages offered to terminated city employees
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The Ceres City Council approved a severance package last week for employees whose jobs were recently terminated because of city budget problems.

Last month the city terminated 11 city employees and chose to eliminate two vacant positions. The layoffs reduces city spending by $1.13 million. The layoffs were ordered after city management forecast a budget deficits of $559,664 for the current fiscal year, $2.1 million in the 2009-10 fiscal year and $4.2 million by the 2010-11 budget cycle.

The council decided to offer a minimal severance package to "help blunt the financial impact" to those who lost jobs, said Sarah Ragsdale, the city's Administrative Services Director. The council felt the package was justified given the difficulty in finding jobs in today's employment market.

The council approved a $54,477 severance package that gives terminated employees medical benefits through March 31 as well as additional weeks of pay based on the number of years worked. None of the terminated employees can collect more than four weeks' worth of severance pay. Those who worked five years or less will be given another two weeks of pay, while those working for six to 10 years will be given three weeks of extra pay.

The package is in addition to the two-week paid administrative leave the employees were placed on when pink slips were issued Feb. 5.

Among those whose jobs were eliminated were Planning Manager Barry Siebe and city community liaison Enrique Perez. One of Perez's chief jobs was representing the city police department to the Latino community as well as overseeing Neighborhood Watch programs.

Ceres resident Len Shepherd criticized the City Council for letting go of Perez, stating that he had a worth equal to 20 consultants. It was a reference to the city hiring various consultants to accomplish city tasks.

"I'm saddened to see he's gone, and the rest of them," said Shepherd.

Shepherd gave a plug for those who lost their jobs, despite impacts to the city budget, saying: "Whatever you can do for them, do it. Cut somewhere else. Don't begrudge them too much. It's going to be hard enough for them to go on."

Councilman Bret Durosette said he agreed with Shepherd that the city needs to "try to do what we can for the people who were laid off."

City officials believe more budget cutting and layoffs will be coming.

Due to the economic recession that has gripped the state and nation, the city of Ceres finds itself in revenue shortfalls. Sales and property tax revenues are decreasing.

The first round of layoffs were crafted to have minimal impact on public safety. Police and fire services consume approximately 75 percent of the city's General Fund. No cuts were made to sworn personnel.

City Manager Brad Kilger said the city is in a reorganization effort to streamline city services and reduce costs. He said it will be several years before the city sees revenues begin to grow.