City leaders in New Braunfels are exploring every option to get 1,200 furloughed employees back to work as soon as possible. Martin Landon, chief executive officer of The Scooter Store, sent every employee an email Friday night instructing them not to return to work until further notice.
Stephanie Hopp, a New Braunfels native, knows several people who worked at The Scooter Store.
"Especially with just my daughter, you have to get another job right away," Hopp said, relating to the situation many of her friends are experiencing. "If not, how are you going to support yourself?"
Hopp said The Scooter Store paid well. In some cases, she says entire families working for the power chair manufacturer at its New Braunfels headquarters. Hopp said her close friend saw the writing on the wall when federal agents raided the headquarters February 20th amid a Medicare fraud investigation. Federal officials said The Scooter Store received as much as $87.7 million in Medicare overpayments from 2009 to 2011.
"[She] and her husband have come to grips of, 'OK, this is what's most likely going to happen,'" Hopp said. "Instead of it just all of a sudden."
New Braunfels Mayor Gale Pospisil is now looking at how to put those furloughed employees back to work.
"This is certainly a blow to all of us, I think, that this may not be here forever," she said.
The Scooter Store was the city's biggest year-round employer. In addition to the Medicare investigation, the City of New Braunfels seeks a refund of $1.3 million extended the company as part of an economic development agreement.
"They have not kept up the number of employees that were part of the development agreement," Pospisil said. "At the same time, we also are concerned about their existence."
If The Scooter Store folds, Pospisil said several other large companies are willing to move to New Braunfels, as long as there is a building ready for them. She said The Scooter Store is leasing its facilities, which will make it easier to bring in a new tenant if the company defaults.
Some of the tax revenue gained from The Scooter Store was used to refurbish other vacant properties in town, including a former Kroger grocery store.
Pospisil said talks are now being fast-tracked, so furloughed employees can get back on the job as soon as possible.
Employees are not eligible for unemployment because they are not technically laid off yet. Pospisil said the City of New Braunfels remains in talks with The Scooter Store leadership to reach an agreement.