Nearly 700 state employees have lost jobs

Thursday, July 3rd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Budget cuts have led to layoffs or financial incentives to resign or retire for nearly 700 state employees, officials say.

Data from the Office of State Finance indicated 130 positions have been eliminated, while other employees have accepted or are being offered ``voluntary out'' benefits or early retirement.

``The association is disappointed that the Legislature was not able to come up with some type of revenue-enhancement plan to help balance the cuts that are currently being made in state government because a lot of people don't understand that these cuts in staff represent cuts in services,'' said Gary Jones, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.

There are 35,000 state employees who work outside higher education, Jones said.

At the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, 37 people were offered voluntary buyouts Wednesday, said Ron Stahl, public information officer for the agency.

``If those people decide not to accept, it becomes a (reduction in force) situation,'' Stahl said in a story from the Tulsa World's Capitol bureau.

The tourism department's employee-reduction plan, and the plans of all state agencies, must be approved by the finance office.

Stahl said the agency will save about $900,000 with the reductions. All but four of the employees work at state parks.

Ralph McCalmont, tourism department interim executive director, said recently that a previous reduction-in-force plan a few months ago involved 18 employees.

About half had taken buyout offers as of mid-June, McCalmont said.

In the case of the Department of Health, a whole program was eliminated.

Dr. Leslie Beitsch, state health commissioner, said recently that 90 employees in the Eldercare program accepted voluntary buyouts. Other personnel slots are also being eliminated for a total savings of more than $5 million in salary, benefit and program costs.

At the Oklahoma Department of Education, all 91 employees offered early retirement packages accepted them, said Diane Haser-Bennett, assistant administrator of the division of management services at the Office of Personnel Management.

Officials report the offers to education employees will cost $1.37 million but will save $5 million.

Haser-Bennett said a plan involving the Department of Central Services is pending and may be finalized by Monday.

Richard DeLaughter, Office of Juvenile Affairs director, said recently that most of the 56 employees whose positions were targeted for elimination in his agency have taken other jobs within the department.