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Nearly 270 North Dakota state workers apply for job buyouts

More than 250 employees of 13 North Dakota state agencies have applied for buyouts in the second year of the state's "voluntary separation incentive program."

Becky Sicble, interim division director for the Human Resource Management Services Division of the state Office of Management and Budget, said 13 of 17 participating state agencies received 269 applications before the Friday deadline. Four additional agencies still have an open window for applications, one as late as Sept. 10 for the 45-day consideration period to complete.

The program offers two options: Three months' wages with the actual cost of health insurance in a lump sum or three months of payroll after separation.

"Basically it's like they're still on the payroll, everything's the same, they just don't report for work for that time, and at the end of that time is when they terminate," Sicble said of the second option, which received the most interest last year, when 159 of 180 applicants received buyouts.

In regard to the increase in applications compared to 2017, Sicble felt there was "more interest" in this year's program but didn't have a clear answer as to why.

"But I will say, from an employment HR perspective, it is a good program for employees to consider," Sicble said. "Last year was the first time that we'd offered such a program and so maybe it's just as simple as that."

Agency heads determined whether to participate in the program. Participating agencies include the state departments of Human Services, Health, Information Technology, Transportation and OMB.

After the application deadlines, Sicble said agencies will review applications and decide which ones to accept. The process could take one to three weeks, depending on the agency and positions.

Sicble said the goal "is to realize financial savings" amid uncertain state revenues.

State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt said Tuesday that general fund revenues for the biennium are running 3.4 percent ahead of forecast, and "it's going to be a challenging session" in 2019.

"Agencies are still in a financial situation where it's most likely going to be another challenging budgeting process, and it's an opportunity for employees to take advantage of a program such as this," Sicble said.

In April, Gov. Doug Burgum released his budgeting guidelines for executive agencies, outlining 5 or 10 percent reductions, depending on agencies' size, with a 3 percent "contingency" reduction.

OMB Director Joe Morrissette said the program could help agencies find "efficiencies," restructuring or realigning positions amid the budgeting process and reductions. Thirty-six of 73 individual state agencies had submitted budget proposals as of Tuesday, he said.

"The timing doesn't work great for every agency, but like I said, half of them are still being worked on and are in that process. At least that half, they can utilize that information as they try to get that budget target," Morrissette said.

Burgum will present his budget recommendation to the Legislature in December after an extensive review process which involves OMB analysts and the governor's office.