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56 Hernando County employees sign up for early leave program

BROOKSVILLE — The final scene was set late Friday for what could be a very different cast of characters operating Hernando County government.

By the 5 p.m. deadline, 56 county employees had signed papers making them eligible for the early leave incentive, more than three times the number of workers the county had predicted to take the offer.

The package was offered as a way to trim dollars from a general fund budget facing a $10 million revenue shortfall.

Topping the list are deputy administrator Larry Jennings and budget director George Zoettlein, who grudgingly signed up this week when he learned his position will likely be eliminated.

The list released late Friday also includes Barbara Shiflett, who heads up library services; Brenda Frazier of community relations; Parks and Recreation director Pat Fagan; Harry Johnson, recreation manager; Dennis Dix, transportation planning coordinator; Dawn Velsor, lead environmental planner; and assistant county engineer Gregg Sutton.

The county had predicted 18 people would sign up for this second round of early-leave packages, and the total payout budgeting was based on those estimates.

The larger than expected pool of applicants could be because everyone is feeling nervous as county officials downsize the county staff, said human resources director Cheryl Marsden said.

"It's put a lot of fear into people,'' she said.

Still, Marsden expects some of those who signed up not to follow through once more of the budget decisions are more final.

Simply signing up doesn't commit an employee to take the leave. Employees who applied have 45 days to consider signing the form to take the leave and seven days after signing to rescind it.

The swarm of people seeking the package may create a new problem for the county, however.

If all of the applicants follow through, the county would face a total employee cash out of $1,159,000 worth of accumulated leave and early incentive funds, plus $528,840 in 18 months' worth of COBRA health insurance payments.

That could leave Hernando County short of funds it needs to operate the core tasks of county government, Marsden said.

Marsden will meet with Zoettlein on Monday to discuss the possible ramifications of dealing with the departure of a large number of employees.

While the focus so far has been on cutting the general fund, there now is talk about how to shift workers to departments that are paid through fees and methods other than the general fund, such as utilities and the development department.

The total payout comes from all of the county's funds, not just the general fund.

Frazier said she put her name on the list at noon Friday citing that very issue. Her department was targeted for additional cuts in the last round and she said she felt like it would be safer to add her name to the mix not knowing what might happen next.

She said she wants to keep working another four years and has enrolled in the state's deferred retirement plan. But with the picture changing daily, Frazier said she just wanted to be secure.

Earlier this week, County Commissioner Jeff Stabins specifically asked why Frazier's position was not mentioned as on to be eliminated, saying he did not want the budget cuts to be borne only by rank-and-file workers.

The county's Budget and Finance Committee recommended one level of cuts to the government broadcasting staff, which is under her department, but County Administrator David Hamilton also announced Thursday that he is seeking another option for commissioners to consider.

He wants to explore farming the video production out to a private concern, which would mean all three of the positions proposed to be kept for the 2010 budget would be lost with a fourth already cut ahead of time.

Video production manager Rick Foti is also on the early leave list.

Recent budget update statistics showed that the county's overall full-time equivalent staff was budgeted to be 1,297 for 2010. That's down nearly 100 workers since 2006, when the count was 1,388.

The 2006 employee count from the general fund was 310 compared with 245 budgeted for 2010.

Those numbers come before any of the early leave employees are figured into the mix.

Commissioners are expected to have their next detailed discussion of budget cuts during their Aug. 25 regular meeting.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The first name of assistant county engineer Gregg Sutton was reported incorrectly in Saturday's edition.

on the list

Officials who have signed up

Some of the county administrators who have filed paperwork for the early leave incentive include:

• Larry Jennings, deputy administrator

• George Zoettlein, budget director

• Barbara Shiflett, library services

• Brenda Frazier, community relations

• Pat Fagan, Parks and Recreation director

• Harry Johnson, recreation manager

• Dennis Dix, transportation planning coordinator

• Dawn Velsor, lead environmental planner

• Gregg Sutton, assistant county engineer

56 Hernando County employees sign up for early leave program 08/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 8, 2009 1:00pm]

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