BRIDGETON - Cumberland County officials laid out a $2.5 million savings plan that includes layoffs and the elimination of vacant jobs.

Freeholders are considering laying off nine employees and cutting 23 positions that are now vacant or expected to become vacant this year due to retirements.

Also under consideration under the plan described Thursday night by County Administrator Ken Mecouch are a change to a smaller health plan - from a Blue Cross/Blue Shield PPO to a Horizon Direct Access plan - and an option for employees to opt out of health coverage in exchange for a one-time payment.

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Mecouch said the county could eliminate the use of a security guard at a parking lot near the courthouse. Additional money would be saved through other circumstances, such as several retired employees being replaced by people at lower salaries.

"We're looking at everything," Freeholder Bill Whelan said. "When you're looking at potential layoffs that none of us want to do, you have to look at every department. You have to turn over every stone."

Freeholders said they also may consider another 37 layoffs at the Cumberland Manor home for elderly people through the closing of one its three floors, but Freeholder Director Lou Magazzu characterized that as a far more preliminary discussion than the other ideas.

Mecouch said the closing of one floor would save $3.3 million in expenditures, but there has yet to be an analysis done on how that would affect revenues.

Mark Stratoti, the manor's administrator, said his facility has only six open beds, which means about 60 people - or nearly one-third of the residents - would be forced out of the manor if a floor is closed. Last year, the manor had $14,729,037 in total revenue, and one-third of that is about $4.9 million, according to county records.

Freeholder Jim Dunkins cautioned about some of the proposed cuts, saying, "You got to figure out how you're going to continue servicing the people."

Freeholders previously requested a freeze on salary increases and other concessions from county unions in order to avoid layoffs and furloughs, but no union accepted that offer.

Tammy Betchner, an employee at the manor, might be an indication of how thoughts may change on that matter. She said she'd be willing to take a pay freeze or furlough if it would prevent layoffs and the ejection of patients from Cumberland Manor.

Another manor worker, Vicky Catlett, said she'd be asking her union for a revote on the union concessions and indicated she saw at least one nonunion member - and maybe more - who participated in her union's vote.

Betchner suggested cutting the practice of serving meals to employees and families of patients at the manor, which Mecouch said would save $250,000 to $300,000. There is a similar practice at the county juvenile detention center and jail, the latter of which county Chief Financial Officer Marcie Shepherd estimated to cost $50,000 annually.

"There's a lot of different ways we can save money other than laying people off," Betchner said.

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