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Hernando Utilities may cut 19 jobs to save $800,000 a year

BROOKSVILLE — After months of study, the head of Hernando County's Utilities Department presented a plan Tuesday to save $800,000 annually by cutting the equivalent of 19 full-time positions, only six of which are currently occupied.

Three county commissioners agreed to move the plan forward. Commissioners Diane Rowden and Jim Adkins, however, had questions, including why the reorganization was being brought forward now, just weeks before the county administrator puts his reshuffling of the county's leadership into place.

Commissioners Dave Russell, Wayne Dukes and Nick Nicholson responded that it is Susan Goebel-Canning's job as director of environmental services to run her department as she sees fit.

The utilities shake-up comes after a staffing evaluation conducted by Goebel-Canning. The review concluded that "after closely scrutinizing our operations, internal evaluations have revealed some redundancies and inefficiencies in operations and discrepancies of salaries of the customer service representatives.''

As the evaluation was under way, Goebel-Canning wrote in her report, several vacant positions were not filled so employees facing layoffs could take those jobs. The person who holds one of the eliminated jobs, the department's sole rate analyst, is retiring next month, and those duties will be absorbed by existing staffers.

Two of the three utilities inspector positions also will be eliminated because they are no longer needed.

"Construction has significantly decreased with regards to residential and commercial development,'' Goebel-Canning noted.

Four customer service jobs will be eliminated, two of them part-time positions, and remaining staffers in the department will be called customer care specialists. Those who were on the lower of two pay grades will receive small pay increases because the duties at each grade were comparable.

Goebel-Canning explained the large number of vacant positions by pointing to the county's hiring freeze, which has been in effect for more than a year. She noted, "The department has functioned without these positions for some time now and (they have) proven unnecessary to refill.''

"I have some concerns,'' Rowden said, claiming that the timing of the changes didn't make sense since in a couple of weeks County Administrator Len Sossamon will appoint an assistant administrator over utilities, public works and several other departments.

Shouldn't that person have some say, she asked.

Rowden also questioned the number of utilities supervisors with salaries in the $50,000 to $70,000 range, and especially the salary of assistant utilities director Jesse Goodwin, who makes $92,000.

"One person makes more than his boss,'' she said, indicating that Goebel-Canning earns $7,000 less than Goodwin.

Adkins said he agreed that the commission should cut the vacant positions, but also wanted to wait for the new assistant administrator before more sweeping changes are made.

"That person will have to operate that department,'' he said.

"Folks, this is crazy,'' said Commissioner Wayne Dukes, who reminded the commission that the staff is supposed to run the departments.

Russell called Goebel-Canning's report "a good start'' and said it was time to move forward with the changes.

Nicholson agreed that maybe more restructuring was needed, but "it's not my job, it's Susan's job.''

Goebel-Canning said after the meeting that she believes all of the people displaced by the changes will find new positions. She said she anticipates the changes could take place in the next two to four weeks.

Also during Tuesday's workshop, Goebel-Canning brought the commission up to date with a study of how the department might shuffle its priorities for future wastewater treatment plant expansion. Consultants are looking at both capital improvement plan projects and the utilities department rate structure.

Further reports will come back to the board at a later date.

She also told commissioners that survey work will take place soon in preparation for planning the new Utilities administration building at the department's operations facility on Wiscon Road.

The ultimate plan is to sell the current administration building, which is housed in what used to be a restaurant on Cortez Boulevard in Brooksville.

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

In other business

The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday:

• Heard County Administrator Len Sossman announce that Spring Hill Fire Chief Mike Rampino will be the new public safety director of the consolidated Hernando County Fire Rescue. Mike Nickerson, who has held the public safety director's title and is the current Hernando County Fire Rescue chief, will report to Rampino, but his new title has not yet been announced. Rampino said he and Nickerson have an excellent working relationship. Rampino's current $93,288 salary may be adjusted slightly, according to Cheryl Marsden, the county's administrative services director. Nickerson will retain his current $94,411 salary. The changes are effective immediately.

• Supported the formation of a county mental health alliance. Commissioners heard from several mental health advocates and providers who spoke about the need to expand services and how an alliance would provide more coordination and a vehicle for securing state, federal and private grant funding. Commissioner Diane Rowden, who spearheaded the effort, was told to bring back a formal request for action to a regular board member. And interested agencies were asked to recommend a structure to the board.

• Approved a certificate of public convenience and necessity for MedFleet Inc., a Pasco County-based private ambulance provider. MedFleet has provided some patient transport services in the county in the past; this is a more formalized agreement to coordinate with county emergency medical services. MedFleet's focus would be transport of patients between hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, routine transports from midnight to 8 a.m. and out-of-county transports.

• Authorized Chairman Dave Russell to take a compromise name for the county's airport to a mediation session Friday with the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority. The commission renamed the airport the Brooksville-Tampa Regional Airport late last year. The Hillsborough Aviation Authority filed a federal lawsuit weeks later, citing trademark infringement. Russell said last week he will propose instead Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.

Hernando Utilities may cut 19 jobs to save $800,000 a year 01/15/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 8:47pm]
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