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Layoffs looming for Manatee County Health Department

MANATEE -- The Manatee County Health Department is bracing for layoffs early next year due to state budget cuts, officials said Monday.

How many employees will be laid off, and which positions will be affected, have yet to be decided, said Dr. Jennifer Bencie, administrator of the department.

The plan that includes details of the layoffs is being decided in Tallahassee, and has not yet been finalized, she said.

However, local health department employees have been told to expect some layoffs, Bencie said.

“This is the first time layoffs will actually be occurring,” Bencie said.

Employees were even asked to vote whether, if layoffs are officially approved, they preferred to be notified before or after the holidays, and the majority preferred to wait until early next month, Bencie said.

“We want to make sure the staff has a smooth transition,” she said. “This is very difficult for everyone.”

The local health department currently employs 154, down from 170 workers last year, she said.

Its total operating budget, most of which is supplied by the state, is listed in county documents at $9,571,697 for 2011-2012, down from $10,730,924 in 2010-2011, according to John Burns, the department’s public health preparedness planner.

Of those totals, Manatee County is listed as contributing $929,962 in 2011-2012; and $978,907 in 2010-2011, according to Burns.

Other county health departments across the state also have been struggling with similar budgetary dilemmas, and some have already announced layoffs, Bencie said.

Sarasota County has managed to avoid layoffs except for a handful of employees paid through a grant that expired, said Charles “Chuck” Henry, administrator of the Sarasota County Health Department.

“For this fiscal year, we do not anticipate any layoffs,” said Henry.

He emphasized that each department’s circumstances are different. But for more than three years while the economy plummeted, his managers did everything they could to keep from filling vacant positions.

“Legislators had to make difficult decisions to balance the budget last year, statewide, and the (Florida) Department of Health is a large part of that budget,” he said.

“As they make those decisions, we at the local level, as part of that organization, must focus on our communities and determine what our priorities are going to be -- and what we’ll fund,” Henry said.

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