The City of Casper could save $2.7 million in the next fiscal year through an early voluntary retirement incentive plan, human resources officials told council members during a work session Tuesday.

The city is looking at a budget shortfall of about $5 million as tax revenues have fallen along with the energy industry.

And personnel costs make up the lion's share of the city's budget, said Assistant City Manager Tracy Belzer and Assistant Support Services Director Zulima Lopez.

Belzer and Lopez asked council to authorize City Manager V.H. McDonald to authorize the proposal for 53 eligible employees.

About 80 percent of them have worked for the city for more than 20 years, Lopez said.

Employees who accept the offer would receive a cash payment of $50 for every month of continuous service up to 20 years and health care premiums paid through December, she said.

Other benefits would include compensation time and vacation leave paid at 100 percent through June 30; disability leave accrued paid at 50 percent through June 30; and free consultations with agencies including Senior Patient Advocates and the Wyoming Retirement System, she said.

The city will send notices to the eligible employees this week, and they would be able to review the offers through May. The deadline for signed agreements is June 10, with a seven-day grace period for employees to reconsider their decisions. Their last day on the job would be June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

The savings come with a cost, however.

If all employees take the offer, the city will spend about $828,000 for the incentives, and the separation benefits would amount to about $608,000. The city would pay those one-time costs with reserve funds, Lopez said.

Council member Charlie Powell said there is another cost: the loss of the institutional memories of those who leave.

When they go, the city will need people to know what they know, Powell said.

Belzer agreed. "We're going to have to get that knowledge quickly," she said.