Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

More DNR staffers bound for retirement

St. Paul — With projected retirements already expected to hit
the state DNR hard, a recent early retirement option (available to
most of state government workers, in some form) could further
reduce staff size this year.

With an unknown budget future, many of those vacated positions are
being filled internally, according to department officials, and
replacements aren’t being sought for those repositioned. (The state
Office of Budget and Management has predicted a possible deficit of
more than $5.5 billion during the next biennium.)

It’s not a position that’s unique to Minnesota’s DNR, according to
Dave Schad, director of the Fish and Wildlife Division of the
department. Other states, too, are experiencing the growing pains
of an aging workforce.

“It’s a real loss for us; these people really know their programs,”
Schad said. “But it gives us the opportunity to bring in new, young
people … We need to look forward.”

Schad said several positions are being held vacant – at least until
budget issues are sorted out. The mass turnover within the state
Legislature also makes state government’s situation more
tenuous.

Right now, Schad said, vacancies within Fish and Wildlife represent
about 10 percent of the full-time equivalent positions.

Next month, the line of those departing could grow longer.

Denise Legato, DNR Human Resources director, said legislation last
year authorized state agencies to offer an early retirement
incentive; the probable idea, she said, was to decrease the number
of layoffs, should that become necessary.

State agencies were allowed to amend early retirement parameters
established by the Legislature, she said, which is what the DNR
did: Employees nearing retirement were made aware of the option,
and those who choose to take part must accept the early retirement
offering by Nov. 29, Legato said. The DNR has until late December
to accept the retirement request.

In an e-mail this week, Legato said 37 Fisheries employees and
seven Wildlife employees have “expressed interest.”

Several “normal” retirements (the Rule of 90: age plus years of
service) loom. In May, the number of DNR employees eligible for
retirement was nearly 1,100 (about 35 percent of the department’s
total “permanent” workforce); of those, 283 were within the
Division of Fish and Wildlife, Legato said.

Early retirement has been offered before, but this time the pot was
sweetened with greater health insurance coverage, according to
Legato.

That insurance offering will bridge a gap between current coverage
and that which might not kick in for a couple years, she
said.

Another of the parameters: The state Legislature said employees
would be eligible if they were 55 and had completed at least 15
years of service. The DNR chose to increase the age requirement to
58 years or older.

Currently there’s not a hiring “freeze” within the department,
Legato said. However, there’s an approval process in place to fill
“critical” positions.

“We’ve been asked to, and we are carefully monitoring our staffing
levels,” she said.

Some higher-level Fish and Wildlife officials sometimes are
hesitant to leave their posts, Legato says.

“People who work for the DNR are passionate about their work,” she
said. “People here live their work; they don’t go home at the end
of the day and do something completely different.”

Schad said many of those about to retire are in management or
supervisory roles in the division. But, he adds, “It’s been
something we’ve been anticipating for a number of years.”

Even so, it’s difficult to predict the difference between when
someone’s eligible to retire, and he or she actually does.

“We’ve taken steps to identify key positions (where retirements are
likely, and) make sure the other folks (who will replace them) have
an understanding of the job,” Schad said. “We want to make sure we
don’t drop the ball on important work.”

While the state budget concerns certainly will touch the DNR, Fish
and Wildlife is affected more by license revenue.

Right now, Schad said, the division is spending more than is being
taken in; that could last until about 2014 “when we’re projected to
go into the red,” he said. He said department officials are working
with the Budget Oversight Committee in budget and position-filling
strategy.

The number of department positions peaked during 2003-04, Schad
said. “We’re down pretty significantly from there.”

Enforcement issues

The DNR’s Enforcement Division, too, is dealing with a number of
vacancies, most of them in the field. It’s not quite in uncharted
territory, but it’s getting close, according to Col. Jim Konrad,
Enforcement director.

In 2003, he said, there were 40 conservation officer vacancies.
Without adding new officers, the division could reach a shortage of
46 COs by 2014, he said.

But, one way or another, the division likely will plan and host
another CO academy, to fill a few of the holes in the field.

As of earlier this week, Konrad said Enforcement was short officers
in 15 field stations, one regional training officer, and two water
recreation officers. That’s 18 officers “we normally have out
pounding the ground,” he said.

The early retirement option doesn’t affect field officers, Konrad
said. They typically retire by age 55; it’s mandated, in most
cases, at age 60.

Konrad said he doesn’t expect any more officer retirements prior to
July 1, 2011. However, during the following fiscal year, seven
could leave the force, and another nine could follow the next
year.

But with a stagnant budget, and the increasing cost of bringing a
new officer aboard (increasing insurance costs, as well as fleet
costs), he said the division must  determine when the dollars spent
make sense.

An academy that could bring aboard around 20 officers could cost
about $300,000. In order to keep the division budget balance, a
full complement of officers isn’t likely in the near future; the
academy cost and increased costs of officers must be offset by
field vacancies.

Share on Social

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Email

Hand-Picked For You

Related Articles