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Pasco clerk of court lays off 40 workers

NEW PORT RICHEY — More than 40 workers with the Pasco County Clerk's Office are losing their jobs, the latest casualties of shrunken state revenues and an economy in the dumps.

Add those 40 workers to 36 other positions left vacant, and the clerk's office will have lost about 16 percent of its work force by October, the beginning of the county's next fiscal year, Clerk of Court Paula O'Neil said Monday.

"Sixteen percent of our manpower," O'Neil said. "That's huge."

Everybody from lawyers to citizens needing to copy records will see the difference.

"There will be an impact on the front line, as well as the time frame for getting information online," she said. "It will affect customer service."

The laidoff employees — who include part-timers and full-timers — were notified last week. Among the soon-to-be unemployed are counter and docket clerks as well as workers in the finance and records divisions, said O'Neil.

Some of the layoffs will take place this summer and others by September. The decisions were based on a combination of seniority and the necessity of the positions.

Across the state, clerks' budgets were hit hard this year by a reduction in funding from the Legislature. In Pasco's case, that meant an anticipated loss of $3.5 million to $4 million, said O'Neil.

Last month Hillsborough Clerk of Court Pat Frank laid off 39 workers. Pinellas Clerk of Court Ken Burke gave pink slips to 39 employees this month. Hernando Clerk of Court Karen Nicolai this year laid off a full-time clerk and a part-time clerk.

Overall, the Pasco clerk's budget for next fiscal year is expected to run around $24 million, down about $4 million from the current year, O'Neil said.

On top of the reduction in state funding was reduced fee income — think deeds and mortgages — that is a result of the hard-hit real estate market.

And O'Neil couldn't expect much from the county portion of her budget this year, either.

County officials are dealing with at least a $22 million deficit from crashing real estate values alone, and commissioners have asked constitutional officers such as O'Neil to come up with reduced requests this year.

O'Neil submitted a $2.9 million request to Pasco County commissioners, a 12 percent reduction from the current year. The county pays for certain services the clerk provides to the County Commission, including maintaining records, investing board funds and preparing financial statements.

In addition to the layoffs and positions left vacant, O'Neil said, she reached the 12 percent reduction through an elimination of student and temporary staff members; reductions in paid holidays and travel; and voluntary reductions in pay and work status from full time to part time.

O'Neil said her office is working on packets of information to help guide the workers on insurance benefits and unemployment assistance.

"It's been very difficult," she said.

Of Pasco's constitutional officers, O'Neil is the only one who has announced layoffs.

In their proposed spending plans, Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley and Property Appraiser Mike Wells have left positions vacant. Tax Collector Mike Olson, whose budget is not due until Aug. 1, said his office will not lay off any workers. Sheriff Bob White cut his budget by 1 percent but is asking for eight new patrol deputies.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Pasco clerk of court lays off 40 workers 06/08/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 8, 2009 8:58pm]
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