Three accept voluntary fire buyout program

Matt Algarin

After recently creating a voluntary incentive separation program to help overcome a budget shortfall, firefighters at the Destin Fire Control District have jumped on board.

“Three individuals have taken the program so far,” Fire Chief Kevin Sasser said. “There are four others that are working on other alternatives and are seriously considering accepting it.”

As part of the program, a fully vested employee (at least 7 years) would receive a base payment of $50,000, plus an additional $1,000 for each full year of service they’ve worked. Only vested employees can participate.

“Several months ago we were looking at laying personnel off, but this is a way we can reduce costs and it not be in necessarily a negative light,” Sasser said.

Based on preliminary numbers from the Okaloosa County Property Appraisers’ office, the district’s projected deficit is $448,000.

Given that three firefighters have already signed off on the voluntary termination program, the district will save $333,000, bringing the estimated projected deficit to $114,000. The $333,000 in savings includes insurance costs and other benefits.

And if there are four others that take the incentive and voluntarily separate from the district, the budget could be balanced, but the final deficit will not be known for a few more months.

“As soon as the budgeting process begins, I will begin to go through line item by line item with a razor, just like where we are at with our current budget…” said Kathryn Wagner, the district’s in-house financial advisor.

The district had initially aimed for five firefighters to accept the program, but if more than that decides to take the payment, it could also pose issues with manning.

“I would ask the board, if we have more people take it than what is needed to balance the budget, that we hire in new people to replace them,” Sasser said.