CROWN POINT | Lake County officials said they have have sent termination notices to more than 30 county government employees older than 65.
Dennis Tobin, a payroll administrator of the county clerk's office, recently wrote The Times stating he and others mistakenly believed management assurances that if they quit their full-time jobs and went on the federal Medicare health insurance program, they could return to their old jobs as part-time employees.
Tobin, 75, has worked for the county government for 13 years. He worked in the surveyor's office and then worked at the clerk's office.
Lake County Attorney John Dull said Thursday none of the employees to be terminated was promised part-time jobs. He said county officials are being forced into the terminations by a change in federal health care that could jeopardize retirement and health insurance benefits for hundreds of current and retired employees.
Tobin wrote, "Many of these terminated employees are like me — no pension, have expensive insurance to buy and lots of medical expenses to pay. After many years of hard work and dedication to Lake County government, this is our reward. We also bought and sold our share of fundraiser tickets."
Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, said, "I agree it does seem heartless. We have attempted to do the best we could for these individuals who have given a lot of time and sweat for us, but the fact is the law says that because they retired from us, that we can't take them back as part-time people."
Tax-revenue shortfalls in the past five years have forced county officials to trim their payroll by hundreds of jobs. The county offered early retirement incentives to nearly 200 employees older than 65 and several years seniority in 2008, 2009 and 2010 to avoid involuntary firings and reducing their health insurance costs.
Tobin said that about five years ago he attended a meeting where employees were encourage to go from full-time to part-time employees. He was told the change would save the county money because they would sign up for Medicare and be given a supplement for health costs rather than the county paying for insurance benefits.
He became a part-time employee five years ago and in late August he was told about his termination.
"I was trying to do them a favor," he said Thursday night. "Now they come back and say if you are part time, you can't work here anymore, period."
Tobin wrote in his letter that he felt pressured to change to part time and was told his new position was secure.
Dull said those meetings took place at time when federal law permitted rehiring retirees on Medicare.
He said the insurance company that oversees the retirement program for more than 400 former county government employees informed the county this summer the law has changed and the federal government will penalize the county if they allow the retirees to continue working even one hour a week.
Tobin said he was told his last day at work would be sometime before Oct. 1. He's looking for a new job.
Times staff writer Elvia Malagon contributed to this report.