Six workers in Hernando County's Development Department were laid off Monday due to the continuing slump in new construction.
A freestanding department that pays its own way through the revenues it collects from building fees, the department has been gutted since a record number of building permits in 2005.
The department had 86 workers in 2006. Nearly a year ago, officials laid off 10 workers as a result of the declining building market. Through attrition and Monday's layoffs, the number of department employees now stands at 34.
In 2005, Hernando processed 4,185 single-family home permits. The total fell quickly after that, and in 2008 that number was just 378.
"It's a sign of the times for certain,'' said Brenda McDaniel, executive officer for the Hernando Builders Association.
She called the layoffs understandable.
"The building department is an enterprise fund. They have to run on the money they bring in. If they're not bringing in the money, they can't afford the help,'' she said.
The same thing is going on in the private sector in the current climate. "We've seen it in our own member companies. They've had to let people go. There's just no work,'' McDaniel said.
Most months in 2008, there were not enough permits pulled to say that even one was pulled per day. "Some months it was in the teens,'' she said. "That's why the builders are hurting so bad.''
To see housing starts drop from 4,000 in 2005 to less than a tenth of that last year is painful not just for the builders but also for the many tradespeople they employ as well as the public sector workers who process building permits, McDaniel said.
The county's jobless numbers show the same trend, with the November unemployment figures for Hernando County hitting a 15-year high of 10.2 percent.
When building is booming, workers including electricians, plumbers, carpenters and roofers have a way to make a living. "That's a lot of people to put to work for just one home,'' McDaniel said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.