- Associated Press - Monday, July 4, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Efforts to cope with a $1.3 billion shortfall in this year’s state budget have led to the elimination of 609 workers from the payrolls of state agencies.

Through June 28, the number of state employees dropped from 34,569 to 33,960, according to John Estus, director of public affairs for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

That figure does not include hundreds of additional state workers who will lose their jobs due to previously announced voluntary buyouts and reduction-in-force plans that are still underway, The Oklahoman reported (http://bit.ly/29jtAuU ). The state’s fiscal year began on Friday.

The state Department of Human Services has offered employees three rounds of voluntary buyouts, spokeswoman Sheree Powell said. The first two resulted in the elimination of 445 jobs and left the agency with 7,125 employees. An additional 228 employees agreed to accept a third buyout.

The agency actually has been shrinking for the past three years.

“Over the current and past two fiscal years, DHS has reduced about 1,200 non-child welfare positions through voluntary buyouts and targeted reductions-in-force,” Powell said.

Still, that’s not going to be enough to bring the agency’s finances back in balance, she said. Within the next week or so, agency officials expect to announce an additional nonvoluntary reduction-in-force as well as program cuts that will be painful, Powell said.

The Department of Public Safety has also issued a voluntary buyout offer to its employees. Thirty-seven employees had expressed interest in participating, Commissioner Michael Thompson said.

“We’re going to have to go through those case by case to determine whether or not it’s going to be a benefit for the agency,” Thompson said.

The buyouts won’t be enough to solve the agency’s financial problems, he said.

“We will have to consider furloughs and depending on what it looks like after that, we may even have to consider reductions-in-force,” Thompson said. “I don’t want to be Chicken Little, but I just think that would be devastating for the agency, and it would be bad for the public, as well.”

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Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

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