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County will eliminate 82 positions

MANATEE — Manatee County’s top executive confirmed Wednesday he will present a plan at a commission workshop today with fewer job positions to achieve the $32 million in cuts needed to balance next year’s budget.

“The public needs to know there are 82 positions that will not be funded next year,” said County Administrator Ed Hunzeker.

Hunzeker said some of those positions were not filled and some employees will be moved into other jobs.

It was not known how many county employees would lose jobs.

“We’re going through the process,” he said. “By the time we go through this, it could only be a handful.”

The process should be completed by the end of June, Hunzeker said.

Last year the county eliminated 94 positions as part of the $44 million in cuts needed to balance the 2008-09 budget.

“We’re going to try to reduce government spending this year by $32 million,” Hunzeker said.

Earlier this year, he told the commission he needed to cut $25 million to balance the budget.

The Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office provided the county this week with an estimated taxable property value of $2.11 billion, down about 9 percent from last year.

If the commissioners agree with the proposed budget cuts that the county administrator presents during a series of workshops, the spending plan for 2009-10 will be $497 million.

“That is $98 million less than four years ago,” Hunzeker said.

The county administrator said the job positions to be eliminated will be from across the board, but the majority will come from the development-related departments of public works, building and planning.

“Everybody knows there’s not a lot of building going on in the county and there’s nothing to review,” Hunzeker said. “The workload is down, so we’re downsizing the departments.”

He said the employees who will be affected were notified Wednesday.

“I’m sad,” said commission Chairwoman Gwen Brown, “but I understand.

“If you have to cut $25 million, where do you cut the $25 million?” She said she was sad because, “Who do you know that you want to see without a job?”

Commissioner Carol Whitmore also said she was upset over maybe having to let county workers go.

“It’s not going to be a good day tomorrow (Thursday),” Whitmore said. “We don’t want the employees to think we’re taking this lightly.”

She said the commissioners were briefed on some of the cuts Hunzeker would have to make, “and knew some jobs would have to be cut, but I hoped they would be just vacant positions.”

Brown said she planned to ask the commissioners to just listen to Hunzeker present his budget proposal today, gather information “and let it soak in.”

“We’re going to have several meetings,” she said, “so I’m going to ask them to write down their suggestions for us to discuss at the future meetings.”

Hunzeker indicated Wednesday that hard choices have to be made in these economic times.

“You don’t get $33 million out of the budget by cutting the pencil account,” he said.

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