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Layoffs affect departments across Manatee County government

MANATEE — The impact of the latest round of layoffs rippled through most county departments Monday, with officials examining how jobs will be reapportioned after 60 positions are eliminated.

The cuts include about 30 “early retirees” who will be leaving the county payroll, Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said Monday.

“Some we will refill, others we will not,” Hunzeker said.

Those early retirees include Larry White, executive director at the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. He accepted a sweetener and moved his retirement up.

“I was going to retire on Sept. 30, I moved it up a little bit,” said White, who is now slated to retire June 30.

“They told me the opportunity; I wasn’t ‘outed,’ I was leaving anyway,” he said Monday. “They’re paying my insurance for a year.”

The 60 positions were eliminated after it was calculated that property tax revenue will be down 12 to 14 percent next year, or $24 million, Hunzeker told the Herald on Sunday.

In addition to the early retirees, some employees were offered other positions, and still others lost their jobs.

Hunzeker hopes to save from $24 million to $35 million altogether, depending on various factors, he said.

“We’re moving people around, offering them jobs they may qualify for that may not pay as much,” Hunzeker said Monday. “That process is happening as we speak.”

Position cuts by department showed Public Works with 19; Property Management, 10; Parks & Recreation, seven; Public Safety, five; Community Services, three; Neighborhood Services, two; and one each among other departments, according to information provided by Hunzeker’s office.

“I’m always upset and concerned when we have to lay people off, and I know with the amount of money we’re talking about, $24 million, you have to deal with letting some personnel go,” said Commissioner Larry Bustle. “It’s sad, but it’s a fact of life.”

With hurricane season coming up, and the Deepwater Horizon oil well still hemorrhaging into the Gulf, how will the Public Safety Department fare with fewer people?

“It’s difficult for the entire county being in a financial situation when we need to lay anybody off, but I think we fared pretty good in Public Safety,” said Ron Koper, EMS chief. He estimated Public Safety would lose only five out of more than 200 positions.

“We didn’t lose anybody out of emergency management, or out of EMS,” Koper said. “Our core services are still intact. Everybody’s having to cut service, but I think we fared as well as we could, given the current economy.” Hunzeker said he based the job reductions on a 13 percent drop in property tax revenues, the midway point between the 12- to 14-percent drop that the county property appraiser’s office has been informally forecasting.

He acknowledged that is only a forecast, and likely will change.

The property appraiser won’t release a preliminary estimate until June 1, with the final tax roll not due until July 1.

“The numbers probably will be off target, but we’ve got to start with something,” Hunzeker said.

Despite the unofficial numbers, Hunzeker said he moved early to notify employees of layoffs so they could either apply for open positions elsewhere within the county, or begin their job search.

“If we identify in the budget that your job is going to go away but we didn’t tell you, you would feel pretty upset about it,” he said. “I just find it a little more humane that, before we deliver a budget (to county commissioners), we tell the affected employees.”

The county has no plans for further job reductions in the upcoming budget beyond those identified so far, said Jim Seuffert, the county’s financial management director. If tax revenue comes in even lower than expected, the county plans to use reserves to avoid further layoffs.

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