BROOKSVILLE — Still more than $4 million away from balancing next year's Hernando County budget and with yet another bleak year expected after that, County Administrator David Hamilton is floating a drastic plan to save money.
First, Hamilton would terminate some of the positions of county directors, managers and supervisors. Then, he would readjust the job descriptions and cut salaries to reflect the current job market and pay scales.
Finally, he would re-advertise the positions. The county employees who had held the jobs could apply for their old jobs, of course, but so, too, could others.
Left unclear Thursday was whether Hamilton's position would be one of those emptied and then re-advertised.
On Thursday, Hamilton said he has talked to county commissioners about his idea, which is part of his larger strategy to shrink the cost of government. He declined to reveal what sort of reaction he has received.
He said that as he was filling out layoff forms Wednesday for nine workers, he realized that the county was cutting from the wrong end of the work force. Gone would be the jobs of a painter, a secretary, a veterans services officer, traffic technicians and others — people on the front line providing services that the residents of the county expect.
Because the idea is just a concept now, Hamilton couldn't say how many county workers might be affected. None of the people in the targeted positions are members of the Teamsters Union, which represents roughly 440 of the county's 663 employees.
"We want to do this rather than an across-the-board wage cut to allow us to rebalance the organization and meet the market levels,'' Hamilton said of his plan.
Hamilton already has some of the information needed to determine proper pay levels for his management staff from a study done months ago. At the time, he was recommending some small salary changes involving his leadership team. The County Commission told him it wanted a more comprehensive recommendation.
"Some of our salaries are out of synch with the overall salary structure,'' Hamilton said. Some managers earn almost as much as directors, for example.
"We want to look at what is out of synch and especially what the market is today'' and target those positions for closure and re-advertising, Hamilton said.
A similar budget-cutting technique is in place in Hillsborough County. Hamilton said he talked about the idea with Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill last week, and Merrill's staff has offered to help show how the process might work in Hernando.
The idea of cutting higher-level pay has come up several times during budget talks in the past few months. Several commissioners have even supported cutting their own salaries, which are set by the state. A new law, however, would allow them to cut their own compensation.
Commissioners are paid an annual salary of $61,100. With benefits, the total cost is approximately $85,000.
The level of county employee salaries has been a hot topic for years. In the midst of the strong anti-government movement during the 2007 budget season, residents carried signs announcing the salaries of the county's top department heads and urged across-the-board reductions for staffers getting higher rates of pay.
Already this year, public employees are getting hit by changes.
Through the actions of the Legislature and with the support of Gov. Rick Scott, all public employees in the state must contribute 3 percent of their pay toward their state retirement plan.
Locally, the commissioners have also talked about increasing the amount that workers pay toward their health insurance and about changes in health insurance, paid-time-off policies and county holidays.
For employees represented by the Teamsters, those kinds of issues must be negotiated at the bargaining table.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.