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County cuts 43 staffers as tax revenues decline


BRADENTON - It hasn't been easy, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker told county commissioners Thursday.

See County Administrator Ed Hunzeker's proposed budget at the county's Web site

A total of about 100 positions have been eliminated, including 82 positions from the County Administrator's budget and about 20 from constitutional officers' budgets. Since some of the positions were vacant and some workers took early retirement, a total of 43 people were laid off Wednesday.

"We're not complaining. The voters voted, and they voted a smaller government, and we're going to provide a smaller government," Hunzeker said Thursday at the commissioners' budget workshop. "We're trying to do it in a very business-like format" by taking out the lowest-priority activities in each program and trying to minimize the impact on total services.

"We have tried to do it with empathy," he said, calling the job cuts "the toughest part of this job."

Hunzeker is proposing a budget of $496, 935,670 for fiscal year 2009-10, $33.7 million less than last year.

Jim Seuffert, the county's financial management director, said that with the county's taxable property value down to $29.2 billion, a 7.75 percent reduction from the $34.4 billion peak in 2007, the county has seen its revenue from property taxes fall.

Not only that, while sales of homes have continued there have not been a lot of good comparable sales - as opposed to foreclosure and short sales - and property values may continue to fall.

Property taxes should remain the same, with no increase in the tax rate of 6.2993 mills, Seuffert said, and 6.41 mills when debt service is included. The proposed rates are 10 percent below the "rollback" rate, which sets the threshold for determining whether there is a property tax increase. The 2010 rates could go up to 10 percent higher and still not be considered a tax increase under state law.

Using last year's valuations, the county estimates that a homestead parcel valued at $150,000 after exemptions would pay $1,036.54 in the unincorporated area.

Changes for workers

The 43 employees have been advised that their positions have been cut, Hunzeker said, but they are still on the payroll through the end of June and, depending on what commissioners do with the budget, he said a few might even be called back and some might move to other county positions.

"Other existing vacant positions that had not been filled over the past several months to manage the anticipated reduction in force will be evaluated to allow for transferring qualified laid-off staff into these positions," wrote Information Outreach Manager Randall Beckwith in an e-mail.

Departments will have to assist each other, Hunzeker said, to accomplish their jobs.

There are no plans for pay increases or cost-of-living increases, Hunzeker said, and no plans for furloughs or four-day work weeks. But in the proposal employees will have to pay $50 a month effective January 2010 toward their health insurance coverage, which will produce $1.6 million in savings per year. Also, benefit reductions may apply to newly hired employees.

The county's total positions falls from 1,883 to 1,801 in the new budget, a drop of 82 positions.

The numbers break down as follows:

  •  Planning Department: 22 positions cut; 21 filled, 1 vacant

  • Public Works: 18 positions cut; 7 filled, 8 vacant, 2 Voluntary Separation Incentive Program (VSIP) and 1 vacant soon

  • Building Department: 10 positions cut; 5 filled, 4 vacant, 1 VSIP

  • Property Management: 10 positions cut; 3 filled, 7 vacant

  • Parks and Recreation: 8 positions cut; 3 filled, 5 vacant

  • Information Services: 4 positions cut; 3 filled, one vacant soon

  • Agriculture and Resource Conservation: 3 positions cut; 1 filled, 2 vacant

  • Community Services: 2 positions cut; 1 vacant, 1 VSIP

  • County Administrator: 1 position cut; 1 VSIP

  • County Attorney: 1 position cut; 1 vacant

  • Human Resources: 1 position cut; 1 VSIP

  • Public Safety: 1 position cut; 1 vacant

  • Utility Department: 1 position cut; 1 VSIP

Running the numbers

The county will get its money from the following sources in the next fiscal year, Seuffert said (numbers are rounded):

  • Property taxes: $190 million, 38 percent

  • Charges for services: $165.4 million, 33 percent

  • Licenses, permits, fines, interest: $82 million, 17 percent

  • Intergovernmental (state, federal and other): $34.4 million, 7 percent

  • Other taxes: $25 million, 5 percent.

  • Total revenue (not rounded): $496,935,970

The county's proposed spending is (numbers rounded):

  • Physical environment: $135.4 million, 27 percent

  • Public safety: $134.3 million, 27 percent

  • General government: $77.9 million, 16 percent

  • Capital outlay: $59.9 million, 12 percent

  • Culture and recreation: $23 million, 5 percent

  • Human services: $26 million, 5 percent

  • Other: $25 million, 5 percent

  • Public transportation: $15.2 million, 3 percent

  • Total spending (not rounded): $496,935,970

Desire to recognize employees

Commissioners expressed concern for the employees who lost their jobs, and also for the loss of institutional knowledge, and Hunzeker agreed that the "brain drain" was a big concern when considering the personnel cutbacks.

Chairman Gwendolyn Brown said, "It doesn't make you feel good if you're on the receiving end" of a notice that jobs are being cut and agreed that the loss of institutional knowledge would be hard for the county to overcome.

Ron Getman said it would be a good idea to recognize those employees who were let go, and warned, "You can never replace institutional knowledge."

Joe McClash said that the commission needs to offer those who lost their positions a chance to be recognized.

"I just feel for these people," he said, and asked that some type of acknowledgment be considered. "There were people who were truly good public servants."

Hunzeker cautioned that recognizing the former employees could reveal their names, and they may not want it known that they were laid off.

"I understand your desire to recognize these folks, but I'm not so sure they want public recognition and their names identified," he said. "I'm not sure how we would do a public recognition."

Carol Whitmore said that one employee who was laid off had landed a job in Pasco County and mentioned Hunzeker's assistant, and Brown cautioned people in general to avoid mentioning names in a public forum to protect their privacy.

The next steps

The county has tapped into reserve funds, Hunzeker said, and the forecast of money available in the General Fund Cash Balance for fiscal year 2010 is $84 million.

He also recommended charging fees for businesses and for the use of the tennis courts, golf courses and boat ramps as a way to bring in revenue, though McClash was cool to the idea.

Hunzeker is also recommending that $1.8 million be used for a Contingency Reserve Fund; $2.4 million that is earmarked for renewal and replacement needs, economic development incentives, unanticipated outside attorney fees and prior year commitments to outside agencies; $5.4 million for 2010 General Government Capital Improvement Plan needs; and $2.6 million for additional renewal and replacement and Environmental Lands fiscal year 2010 Capital Improvement Plan needs.

The county has cut $97 million from its budget in the past three years, Hunzeker said.

"As in years past, we are continuing to downsize government," he told the commissioners. "We'll probably continue to do so for the next few years."

This story has been modified since it was first posted.


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