BROOKSVILLE — County officials fretting over whether Hernando can afford the up-front costs of the employee buy-out plan can breathe easier.
On Monday, officials said that by using money already budgeted for salaries in the next fiscal year, they can afford to give the package to all employees who opt to take it. By Friday's deadline, 56 employees signed up for the early leave.
Since no one's buyout would cost more than the value of their full year's salary, there will be some savings in the next fiscal year, said George Zoettlein, director of the office of management and budget.
In fiscal year 2011, a larger savings would be realized, said Cheryl Marsden, human resources director. County officials hope to save millions of dollars in the years ahead.
The up-front hit will be significant if all 56 workers follow through with their leave agreement.
Just for the general fund employees, the total cost of the cash-out — which includes one week of pay for every year of experience through 18 years plus the value of accumulated leave — totals $644,961. Add to that another $238,968 for the cost of providing 18 months of COBRA coverage.
For all funds, the total for the cash-out is $1,158,986, and for COBRA another $528,840.
Eleven of the employees on the list would take home a cash-out that totals $30,000 or more. The top recipients would be Pat Fagan, parks and recreation director, with $60,524; Larry Jennings, deputy county administrator, with $58,578; Barbara Shiflett, library services director, with $55,953; George Zoettlein, director of the office of management and budget, with $55,824; and Dennis Dix, metropolitan planning organization coordinator, with $54,614.
Other top officials who have signed up for the leave include Gregg Sutton, assistant county engineer; Brenda Frazier, community relations coordinator; Harry Johnson, recreation manager; and Rick Foti, video production manager.
Calculating just how much the county might save in the long run is more complex.
Employees who signed up for the leave by Friday's deadline have 45 days to sign a formal agreement. After that, they have seven days to rescind the agreement.
That timing is good for employees in that, before their deadline to make a final decision comes, the County Commission will have finalized the budget. Because of that, they will know whether their programs, positions and departments have been affected.
But the county is trying to make up a $10 million revenue shortfall in the general fund alone and county officials won't know for sure how many people will be leaving their positions by the time they have to approve a balanced budget, Marsden said.
That could mean that tough decisions on positions might come even after the budget is finalized and the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, she said. Employees who take the early leave will have to leave their positions by Oct. 16, or Oct. 17 or 18 if they work weekends.
On Monday, Marsden met with Zoettlein to talk about the early leave impacts. She also sent memos to department heads seeking information from them on how many positions they would have to replace if everyone in their department who signed the early leave interest form decided to take the leave.
County Commissioner John Druzbick, who pushed hard to offer the early leave program, said he believes many of those who signed up on the list just did so in case their jobs were set for cutting during the upcoming commission budget discussions.
He said he hoped that when the dust settles, 25 to 30 people will actually take the leave.
"It would save us a substantial amount of money,'' he said.
While Druzbick said that offering the leave was a hard choice, substantial cuts are still needed.
"We're going to get there. State law says we have to have a balanced budget,'' he said.
The number of people signing their interest form was about three times more than Marsden had originally guessed might take the option. "I have to say I am surprised by the number,'' she said.
She suspects that direct conversations by the commission talking about real cuts to programs and departments prompted more interest in the leave program.
"We have been talking about doing layoffs. We have been talking about having to reduce. We've been talking about it for a long time,'' she said. "People started to realize, wow, if it does happen, I'd rather have this money than get laid off and have no money.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.
$60,524 Pat Fagan, parks and recreation director
$58,578 Larry Jennings, deputy county administrator
$55,953 Barbara Shiflett, library services director
$55,824 George Zoettlein, office of management and budget director
$54,614 Dennis Dix, metropolitan planning organization coordinator