BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County officials hoped to ease the massive budget crunch by offering top-paid employees an early retirement package.
Apparently, the bait was not attractive enough.
By last week's deadline, only six people had filed paperwork to qualify for the program. And several of those filed applications only to preserve the chance to take the offer later, according to Cheryl Marsden, director of human resources.
When the offer was made last month, officials figured that 77 general employees and 39 Hernando County Fire Rescue workers met the qualifications to apply. The program was geared to employees who earn at least $50,000 and have worked for the county at least six years.
Average salaries of those qualified to take the offer were $67,695 for general workers and $61,207 for fire rescue employees.
County staff had anticipated that about 10 percent of the eligible employees would take advantage of the opportunity, which offered a week of pay for each year of completed service, up to a maximum of 18 weeks.
The low interest in the program disappointed County Administrator David Hamilton. He said this week that he hoped to trim $500,000 from the budget from the upper-salary positions.
Hamilton said that is still his goal, and that the early leave incentive was the first in a number of steps toward that end. He called it the "gentlest" of the actions but stopped short of saying whether layoffs will follow.
One of the stated goals for the program, according to a February memo to the County Commission, was "reduce the number of employees that may need to be involuntarily separated later.''
Concerned that it might get too many applicants, the County Commission even set a rule that, if only some could be accepted, they would be chosen by how early they filed their applications.
The county employees who did file applications were Hernando County Fire Rescue Chief Mike Nickerson, assistant county attorney Kent Weissinger, interim code enforcement director Mark Caskie, technology services director Garry Allen, budget management analyst Elaine Singer and chief planner Jerry Greif.
Marsden expected to formally notify those employees of their acceptance into the program this week. After that notice, they have 45 days to consider signing the "waiver and release'' document. They also have seven days after signing that to revoke it.
The final workday for those who opt for the plan would be no later than May 15.
The county is trying to trim spending in the current year to make up for a $3 million shortfall in revenues in the general fund alone. Another $10 million shortfall is anticipated for the next budget year.
Hamilton has said that county leaders are first tackling the general fund but that the remaining five separate county budget funds are also feeling the pinch.
The County Commission is expected to hear a general discussion of the budget during its regular meeting Tuesday.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.