For 3rd Yr., Hennepin Cty. Officials Return Portion of Pay

Employees and commissioners have helped the county save approximately $4.4 million in the past two years through voluntary unpaid leaves and returned pay.

The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners has, for the third consecutive year, approved measures to allow the county’s elected officials to voluntarily return a portion of their salaries, the county announced Wednesday.

The county has saved nearly $4.4 million in the past two years, mainly due to employees taking voluntary unpaid absences.

Since 2009, the county has encouraged its employees to voluntarily take leave without pay—an average of 20 hours per year—in order to address tight budgets. In 2011, participating employees helped the county save approximately $1.9 million by taking unpaid leaves; in 2010, that amount totaled nearly $2.5 million, the county said.

However, a Minnesota statute doesn’t allow the county’s elected officials, which include its commissioners, to take unpaid leaves. As a result, elected officials have, for the last two years, had the option to return the equivalent of 20 hours of their pay to the county.

On July 24, all six members of the board voted unanimously in favor of returning that same portion of their 2011 salaries.

Commissioner Mike Opat told Twin Cities Business on Thursday that the commissioners’ returns have amounted to roughly $2,000 per year and are a minimal portion of the total amount that employees have helped save in recent years.

“We recognize the value of staff taking leave without pay,” Mike Opat, chair of the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, said in a statement. “We arrived at this strategy—basically in the form of a gift to the county, which is permitted by statute—so that we could give back a portion of our salaries as well to address the deficit.”

Meanwhile, no commissioner or employee has received a raise since 2008. Opat said that Hennepin is one of few entities in the state that have adopted such cost-saving measures.