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Pasco County's higher tax rate opens up 61 county jobs for those laid off

NEW PORT RICHEY — More than 60 percent of the Pasco County workers who got pink slips last month have found new jobs: with Pasco County.

Sixty-one of the 98 workers on the layoff list have been rehired in other county positions. About half of them took pay cuts, said personnel director Barbara DeSimone. The other half kept their same salaries or got promotions.

"Some got quite a bit less," she said.

Two more of the original 98 decided to retire. That leaves 35 employees on the layoff list. Their last day is Friday.

Although 35 people must now wade into a harsh job market, that number is considerably less than the 125 filled positions that officials originally put on the line.

Officials have not yet calculated the cost savings of the layoffs and the reduction in some workers' pay, DeSimone said.

Layoffs became a reality earlier this year when officials began trying to plug a more than $35 million deficit, most of that in lost property tax revenue if they had kept the same tax rate.

Dozens of positions opened up after commissioners raised the tax rate and restored some of the services originally headed for the chopping block.

County officials have lifted a 2-year-old hiring freeze to fill those slots as well as other vacant positions, including ones left by senior employees who have decided to take an early retirement package.

That buyout package, which commissioners approved in August, includes two choices for employees: either medical insurance coverage for up to three years after they leave (worth about $5,000 a year) or a $5,000 lump sum payment.

About 400 full-time workers are eligible for the "voluntary separation incentive program": those either 55 years old with at least six years of service or those of any age who have worked at least 25 years for the county.

But as of Wednesday, only 33 employees had applied, according to DeSimone. Eligible employees have until Friday to decide.

Twenty of those have been approved because they translated into a cost savings of at least $10,000, she said. County Administrator John Gallagher rejected five and is still negotiating on others, she said.

Laidoff workers get their accrued vacation time and a quarter of their sick leave. Under federal law, Pasco County is responsible for paying 65 percent of COBRA for nine months.

The workers who take care of Pasco County buildings and parks took the biggest hit when pink slips went out last month.

Eliminated jobs include secretaries, food service aides, painters, plumbers, carpenters, park attendants and customer service specialists.

Many of the 35 employees work in the parks and recreation department, she said. Others are scattered among the facilities department and the elderly nutrition and cooperative extension programs.

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

Pasco County's higher tax rate opens up 61 county jobs for those laid off 10/07/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 7, 2009 8:29pm]
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