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PREVIOUS COVERAGE | County slashes 60 more positions

MANATEE — One by one, 60 Manatee County workers were contacted by their managers last week and told their positions had been eliminated.

A library staffer, an engineer in the public works department, a beach lifeguard, a project manager — those were only four of the job losses that spanned the spectrum of county government, county administrator Ed Hunzeker confirmed Sunday night.

The cuts were necessary because the county has calculated that property tax revenue will be down 12 to 14 percent, or $24 million, next year, Hunzeker added.

And there is more slashing coming.

Hunzeker told the Bradenton Herald that he contacted Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube and the county’s property appraiser, supervisor of elections, tax collector and clerk of the circuit court at the end of last week and told them they all had until Thursday to reduce their budgets by 1 to 2 percent.

The 60 job cuts — which now have reached 200 in the last four years — are part of Manatee County’s ongoing attempt to meet a stringent budget demanded by the voters who passed Proposition 1 a few years ago, reducing property taxes, Hunzeker said.

This round of position cuts and other trims, saving roughly $35 million, brings the total to $130 million slashed from the budget in the last four years.

Some of the 60 workers were offered other positions last week if they were qualified. Others lost their jobs.

“In some cases some were reassigned and some were laid off,” Hunzeker said. He wasn’t sure how many of the 60 retained a job.

County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, speaking at Tea Party Manatee at Mixon Fruit Farms on Sunday, described a county administration building mired under a black cloud Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

“I heard that there were project engineers who took jobs for half pay just to keep a job,” Whitmore said. “I heard of an employee from parks and recreation who went to the 911 call center.”

Hunzeker said he will present his proposed budget, including this week’s cuts as ordered, to the Manatee County commission Thursday , which will have the summer to work through it.

Steube, who has said at meetings that he is struggling to do what he needs to do at present funding, did not return a phone call by deadline Sunday night.

Dave Bristow, the spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, said he has not talked to the sheriff about the cuts yet.

“It’s extremely unpleasant, but the voters voted and we will work with the county commissioners to meet the financial situation we are in,” Hunzeker said.

Manatee County’s budget currently stands around $487 million, Whitmore said.

Hunzeker says there is no question that next year the cuts will continue.

Also speaking at Tea Party Manatee on Sunday, commissioner Gwen Brown said next year’s budget cuts will be $24 million.

There was only one positive piece of financial news for Hunzeker to report.

Fitch Investors Services, one of three Wall Street crediting agencies, awarded Manatee County a AAA credit rating.

The county immediately refinanced some outstanding debt.

“We will save the taxpayers $100,000 a year over the next seven years,” Hunzeker said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, Ext. 6686.

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