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Pinellas County drops employee giving programs, surprising the United Way

CLEARWATER — Faced with requests by United Way and a competitor to do employee donation campaigns, Pinellas County didn't pick a side.

The county eliminated employee giving campaigns altogether, ending paycheck deductions for local charities beginning Sept. 1.

With deep budget cuts and fewer employees, managing a campaign would be too much, said county attorney Jim Bennett.

Further, adding a competitive process would add work during a time when the county is trying to downsize, said Paul Alexander, chairman of the workplace campaign the past four years.

In letters Thursday, Bennett delivered the news to the United Way and America's Charities, a federation for nonprofits that also sought workplace donations.

Bennett said there's no right to solicit employees, and the competition to do so prompted the "rational response" to create the ban. Limiting workplace giving to one organization is legally perilous.

But the decision is unusual, officials at both charitable groups said.

"I can tell you we're not seeing it elsewhere," said United Way spokesman Doug Arnold, who called the news "kind of a surprise."

Arnold said United Way officials need to review Bennett's letter, but they will seek to discuss continuing employee donations with him and other county officials.

The county has worked with United Way for decades. Its employees annually donate up to $150,000 to the organization for charities, as well as participate in other activities. Last year, a book drive netted more than 2,000 books for children and employees helped fix up a Girl Scouts camp.

"It's a little disappointing, to be honest with you," said Alexander, director of the county's technology services. "At a time right now … when the economy is in the situation it is, the demands are going to be up."

Employees can still contribute to charities directly, but no organized drives will not be allowed and no paychecks deductions made. The county already plans to cut $345,000 for social action groups for next year, a 45 percent drop.

While the county says it couldn't efficiently manage two campaigns, some government bodies have chosen to try.

America's Charities and the United Way are among options for state employee to donate to from their paychecks — same for federal workers. The city of Orlando also has cut checks for both charities from employee giving.

"It's really a shame," said Donna Chun, southeast regional director in Winter Springs for America's Charities.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

Pinellas County drops employee giving programs, surprising the United Way 08/13/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 13, 2009 11:16pm]
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