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Hernando County administrator proposes big shakeup to save money

Budget and management director George Zoettlein could see his position go away. He has filed for early retirement but plans to apply for a new job that will include his current duties.

RON THOMPSON | Times

Budget and management director George Zoettlein could see his position go away. He has filed for early retirement but plans to apply for a new job that will include his current duties.

BROOKSVILLE — County Administrator David Hamilton said Thursday that he will recommend that the positions of deputy county administrator and director of management and budget be eliminated.

Instead, Hamilton will ask the County Commission to create one position in next year's budget to oversee both of those functions.

As of Thursday, deputy administrator Larry Jennings and budget and management director George Zoett­lein both had signed up for the early retirement plan.

But Zoettlein said he doesn't want to leave and would be interested in applying for the new job. He said he put in his paperwork for the retirement deal to keep his options open during the allotted 45 days.

Changes are coming fast to departments throughout Hernando County government as county officials continue to deal with their financial crisis.

Hamilton said Thursday that he wants the County Commission to have the option of seeking bids from private companies to run Government Broadcasting. Closing that operation would eliminate three jobs. The head of the department, Rick Foti, the video production manager, has put in for early retirement.

The county administrator also wants to cut costs in Facilities Maintenance by wiping out the position of assistant county engineer, now held by Gregg Sutton.

And in Parks and Recreation, he is recommending cutting director Pat Fagan's salary and eliminating the job of recreation director, which is now held by Harry Johnson. Johnson has signed up for the early leave package.

The latest moves are part of Hamilton's efforts to plug a $10 million revenue shortfall. The timing of the latest round of proposals is not coincidental; today is the deadline for employees to apply for the early leave incentive.

Hamilton said when the County Commission decided to give employees a second chance to take the early retirement package, it allowed him to bring forward additional ideas on how to save money.

"Opening up the additional round of early leave opened a whole flood gate of new options," Hamilton said.

The latest options had people at the courthouse buzzing on Thursday with rumors that Zoettlein had been fired. Zoettlein had to set the record straight.

Hamilton called Zoettlein to his office late Wednesday to tell him he was going to recommend deleting both Jennings' job and Zoett­lein's from the 2010 budget. Hamilton said he intended to mold some new job description that would combine some of Jennings' old tasks and the budget responsibilities under a different position he would then advertise.

Zoettlein said he asked whether he could apply for that new job and Hamilton said he could. Hamilton also told him that the job would be posted to both internal and external candidates and that he wanted the best possible person in that job.

That made Zoettlein think that he might not get the new job.

He asked Hamilton whether it would be in his best interest to sign up for early retirement. "He told me it would be a very judicious thing to do," he said.

"I'm not doing this because I want to leave. I want to stay," he said.

Zoettlein, 59, came to Hernando County in June 1999 after spending nine years as finance director for the city of Crystal River. Before that he worked for five years in finance for Pasco County.

He said he understood what Hamilton was doing to get the spending plan in line with revenue. "He's got to do what he's got to do for the county and I've got to do what I've got to do to protect myself," Zoettlein said.

Hamilton said combining the two positions will save the county at least $100,000. The combined cost of Jennings and Zoettlein for salary and benefits is $287,128.

As for Government Broadcasting, Hamilton said letters will go out next week announcing interest in a private entity taking over recording and broadcasting basic government meetings.

Under that option, community relations coordinator Brenda Frazier would take on new duties and the three government broadcasting employees would be gone.

That is different than the plan that was recommended this week by the Hernando County Budget and Finance Committee. The committee wanted to keep two of the video staff along with Frazier to continue to produce much of the program material now available on Bright House Cable Channel 622 and as streaming video.

The budget committee recommended that the commission slice $100,000 from Facilities Maintenance, and Public Works director Charles Mixson detailed a plan to shuffle some funding sources, lose positions and cut other costs.

But Hamilton is suggesting that some of the facilities maintenance costs be shifted from the fund that now pays Sutton's salary and eliminating that position. Having two engineers in a county the size of Hernando, he said, "is an issue that needs to be discussed by the County Commission."

In Parks and Recreation, Hamilton said Fagan will take on additional duties with Johnson's departure. But with some of the department's tasks going to other managers, Fagan's salary can be cut. With benefits, Fagan's compensation package is $128,347.

Commissioners will hear Hamilton's detailed budget options during their Aug. 25 meeting.

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

Hernando County administrator proposes big shakeup to save money 08/06/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 6, 2009 8:12pm]
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