Myrtle Beach Fire adjusting after COVID-19 budget cuts force early retirement for some members

Published: Oct. 2, 2020 at 5:41 AM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Nearly 50 Myrtle Beach city employees officially retired this week after COVID-19 budget cuts forced the city to offer early retirement packages.

WMBF News first broke the story Tuesday. Now, we’re getting a better idea of the impact the budget cuts are having on city agencies, like the Myrtle Beach Fire Department.

Myrtle Beach leaders previously said the city focused on cutting employees close to retirement or those who had already retired but were rehired, as they would benefit the most from the separation agreement.

“This was a generous package," said city of Myrtle Beach spokesperson Mark Kruea. “It included a payment equal to one fourth of a year’s salary as a contribution toward the necessary retirement system contribution and an extension of medical coverage through December.”

Four Myrtle Beach Fire employees retired this week, three of them were part of the city’s early retirement incentive.

Deputy Fire Marshal Jonathan Evans says the fourth fire department retirement was one that was already scheduled to happen this week.

“We had two lieutenants and an engineer who both left," said Evans. “We have folks in place that are ready to take that next step up. But it’s really the experience we lost this week. We always operate at least a medium staffing, ranging from maximum to minimum staffing, [which could include] bringing people in for overtime. We’re use to working like that. But the experience we lost this week, it’s unimaginable."

Evans added that just like many businesses, the fire department has felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly this week.

“With those four employees [retired], we’ve lost over 125 years of service here in Myrtle Beach, not including the time and service they have from other places,” Evans said.

Kruea noted the employee cuts would save the city ‘a million plus dollars.’ He said 35 staff members voluntarily took advantage of the early retirement.

But the million dollar goal wasn’t met. The city ended up offering early retirement to ten more employees, all in the “retire/rehire” group. However, the separation was not voluntary.

Evans added the three fire department retirements were also not voluntary. He said despite the loss of employees, response times would not be impacted.

“It’s not going to change anything with our response time,” Evans said. “We have the same amount of people coming out of the station as we always do. This station in particular, Station 1, usually has 12-13 employees that work on those trucks. That’s always going to be the case. We’re always going to be there for our community.”

WMBF News asked Evans if he’s concerned about the city having to make any additional employee cuts in the near future.

“You never know what the city is going to plan," Evans said. "We know they have plans in place and they’re looking at lots of different things. [Making employee cuts] is the last thing they want to do. From the beginning, they’ve [said] they don’t want to have to [do the cuts]. Obviously they have to do what they have to do. We know the city is trying to look out for all of us the best they can. We just have to put out faith in them.”

The city of Myrtle Beach further stated the employee cuts did not target any specific department and were citywide.

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