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Pasco County lays off 14 workers

NEW PORT RICHEY — On Wednesday morning, Glenn L. Mattos reported for his job as a Pasco County electrical inspector, a position he's held for about two years.

Next week, he may find himself working as a traffic signal technician. Or, he may find he has no job at all.

Mattos, a 51-year-old father of three, was among 14 people laid off by Pasco County this week, casualties of a dramatic plunge in revenue from building permits.

The layoffs are the first in Pasco County in 26 years.

Twenty-two full-time positions were cut from the county's building inspections and central permitting divisions, eight of which were already vacant.

County personnel director Barbara DeSimone said the county is trying to help those laid off find new jobs in other departments.

"The thing I want to emphasize is the county is doing everything it can to find positions for these people," she said.

The cut positions were funded by building permit revenues, which have dropped to less than half the $12.3-million collected last fiscal year.

So far this fiscal year, building permit revenue has reached just $5.1-million, well below the county's original projection of $9.5-million. In the next fiscal year, Pasco projects it will collect $5.3-million.

Even with these job cuts, the county may still have to raise the fees for its development services by 25 percent for the coming fiscal year, development director Cindy Jolly wrote in a memo Monday.

Building inspectors say the warning signs were clear. One building inspector has seen his inspections fall from 30 a day to just three, said county spokesman Eric Keaton.

Since the positions are funded by building permits, the culprit for the layoffs is the housing downturn, rather than the state-mandated property tax cut called Amendment 1, which is expected to slash $16-million — a tenth — from the county's general revenue and call for more job cuts.

But both factors have the same effect on county operations.

"Once Amendment 1 passed, I knew something was coming down the pipeline," Mattos said. "You could see the writing on the wall."

Still, there was a sense of hope. "I'm pretty optimistic," Mattos said. "I think they're moving in the right direction by trying to put us in vacant positions."

He's interviewing Monday for a job as a traffic signal technician, and may consider others, like animal control. He thinks he might have to live with a 5 percent or more loss in pay.

With his three daughters already grown and married, he's less worried than others with more mouths to feed, but he's still worried at the prospect of having his health benefits run out in June. "Especially at this age," he said. "I take each day as it comes."

The cuts are effective May 23.

The 22 positions were cut from a total work force of 116 full-time building inspection and central permitting staffers in Pasco, Keaton said.

With Amendment 1 likely to drive more job cuts, would those like Mattos be rehired only to find themselves jobless again in a matter of months?

Keaton thinks not.

Pasco is working to accommodate the laid-off workers in currently open positions, not vacancies frozen in preparation for looming budget cuts.

"These are necessary positions," Keaton said.

DeSimone didn't rule out further cuts as a financially difficult year rolls on.

"I'm not planning on any, but I don't know at this point," she said.

Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at cyap@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4613.

Pasco County lays off 14 workers 05/01/08 [Last modified: Sunday, May 4, 2008 11:55am]

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