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Pinellas County job cuts could number in hundreds

CLEARWATER — At least 420 jobs have been slated for possible elimination by Pinellas County government, and more could soon be targeted by the budget ax.

Eliminations of the full- and part-time employees are part of department spending proposals reviewed by the Times on Friday. The job cuts would happen if the starkest scenario — a 30 percent spending reduction in county departments — became necessary. Some agencies, including the Sheriff's Office, still have to submit proposed cuts.

However, County Administrator Robert LaSala declined on Friday to provide a specific number of jobs he wants to cut as Pinellas officials try to cull $85 million in spending for 2009-10. He compared it to "yelling fire in a crowded theater" because of anxiety among employees and uncertainty over the budget.

In Hillsborough, however, County Administrator Pat Bean has been more specific about the scope of potential cuts. As many as 1,000 jobs — about one-sixth of Hillsborough County government's work force — could be eliminated because of declining property tax revenue, Bean said this week.

Hillsborough is projecting a more than $100 million drop in property tax revenue next year. Bean said the gap can't be bridged without substantial cuts in employment. That likely means entire programs will have to disappear, Bean said, from consumer protection to day care licensing and inspections. She hasn't determined what should be cut.

She said she is telling people: "I want you guys to know this is going to be ugly."

In Pinellas County, the proposed job cuts don't take into account potential new and increased fees — such as a charge to enter Fort De Soto Park — that could reduce the needs for the deepest cuts. All told, the county work force has 2,400 full-time jobs under LaSala. Elected constitutional officers such as the sheriff have their own work forces.

LaSala said his first cuts would be aimed at 100 now-vacant positions. He said earlier this week that employees won't get raises next year.

Last year, 350 full-time positions — more than half vacant — were eliminated when the county needed to trim $55 million from the general fund.

"I'm not going to say a number. I will say $85 million is more money than they had to cut in the past. It's going to mean a lot of positions," LaSala said.

Because of the depth of the shortfall and huge share of the budget from personnel costs, job cuts will be necessary, Commission Chairman Calvin Harris said this week. "It has to come from labor," he said.

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

Pinellas County job cuts could number in hundreds 03/27/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 30, 2009 4:07pm]
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