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Workers for the Houston County Road and Bridge Department remove trees along Nuclear Plant Road on Jan. 14.

Seventy-three of Houston County’s approximately 400 employees will be eligible for retirement within the next five years, causing department leaders to plan for an impending exodus.

Houston County Personnel Director Sheri Garner said the 73 employees have totaled 1,363 years of service in terms of state retirement. She noted an aging population created the enormous challenge county leaders face in ensuring their departments run smoothly during any transitions.

“The industry trends indicate it’s because of (baby) boomers. They’re the largest population of retirees that we’ve ever seen,” she said.

That is why Garner emailed department heads in March in an effort to create some succession plans. The Houston County Commission will consider approving one of the planned adjustments on Monday — the elimination of a garage technician position in favor of creating an assistant garage superintendent.

While the current garage superintendent still has five years before he is eligible for retirement, the position requires a wealth of knowledge that takes years to obtain, especially with regard to equipment bid specifications, Garner said. Ensuring that knowledge base transfers to employees with fewer years of experience remains the critical issue department leaders face, Houston County Probate Judge Patrick Davenport.

Thirty percent of Davenport’s staff will be retirement-eligible within the next five years, affecting the tag office mostly. County officials approved the creation of an assistant vehicle registration manager position in this year’s budget to help solve the challenge.

“It takes so long to build the knowledge base needed for the office to function properly that you can’t wait until someone retires (to address the problem),” he said. “We’re thinly staffed, and with the workload it’s tough to train as well as you need to. We don’t have any extra staff to assign to training for a full year.”

Some department heads are addressing the issue through cross-training, a route Houston County Revenue Commissioner Starla Moss is taking, Garner said. Others will tweak position descriptions, essentially switching one position for another, similar to the county shop request commissioners will consider Monday.

Some problems may also be solved with recruiting. With 11 Houston County Road and Bridge personnel now eligible for retirement, many of them heavy-equipment operators, county officials have approached Enterprise State Community College’s commercial driver’s license (CDL) class leaders for assistance, Garner said.

The county has even offered CDL classes to some of its younger employees on Fridays, when county offices are usually closed, she added.

While the statistics provide a challenge, smart decisions now can ease the impacts of a large amount of retirements in a short amount of time, said Davenport.

“You have to make wise long-time plans,” he said. “That includes taking into account individuals who may leave for other jobs or may medically retire early because of an illness.”

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