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September 16, 2014

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Henderson:

City gets creative to avoid laying off employees

Amber Ellis was hired by the city of Henderson to help manage growth, joining the city in 2006 at the tail end of the construction boom to review building permit applications in the Developmental Services Center.

But when the recession hit last year and applications plummeted, the services of Ellis and 64 other Developmental Services employees were no longer needed.

Rather than issuing them pink slips, however, the city moved Ellis and two of her colleagues to the Henderson Municipal Court in December to help the court catch up on its growing backlog of warrants.

The move is one step in a broad plan the City Council has approved to avoid layoffs in the department and keep those 65 people employed.

"I think that speaks volumes to how the city values its employees," Ellis said. "To do something like this — it's reassuring to know that we are valued employees."

Henderson Municipal Court Administrator David Hayward said he approached city leaders with the proposal to move three employees in response to the court's rising workload. The number of cases handled by the court has risen 40 percent since 2005.

"In contrast to some other departments around the city, where the workload has gone way down over the last four years, the court's workload has gone way up," Hayward said.

Hayward attributed the increase to the growing population and a tax initiative that put more police officers on the street, resulting in more arrests and citations.

From July to November, Hayward said, the court's fines and forfeiture collections were more than $330,000 ahead of their projected pace. Court clerks have been overwhelmed keeping up with the rising number of warrants, he said.

The increased revenue the city will see from the additional warrant processing capacity will pay the salaries of the three transferred employees and leave a bit extra for the city, Hayward said, but he could not estimate how much.

"This is one of those things that's kind of a win-win situation," he said. "We're keeping people employed, we're helping the court get caught up and, if all goes as projected, we'll be able to offset the cost of these employees."

Ellis said she and her two co-workers are happy to have jobs. "It's definitely different work than what we've been trained for, but we're diving in, working hard and learning the ropes," she said.

The city has moved two other Developmental Services employees to the Redevelopment Agency, but city spokeswoman Kathy Blaha said the fate of the remaining employees is tied to an employee buyout that the city approved in December. The city has no goal for the number of employees it hopes will take the buyout, but of the 350 who qualify, city officials estimate 50 will take the offer.

Blaha said the remaining Developmental Services Center employees will be moved around after the buyout process is completed. The 45-day window that employees have to consider the offer began in mid-December. City officials have not ruled out layoffs in the event that not enough employees take the buyout.

Jeremy Twitchell can be reached at 990-8928 or [email protected].

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