LARGO — Animal control officer Gary Brown pulled his truck up to the empty white house just after 8 a.m. Thursday.
Chaos was waiting.
Neighbors had been complaining for days about Chaos, the abandoned 65-pound pit bull-boxer mix. It had been left fenced in the yard for weeks, they said, fed by girls living nearby.
Retrieving the mild-mannered dog was Brown's first assignment, a day where low staffing meant the officer had to cover two of the agency's six zones.
Budget cuts have forced the department to drop from 23 officers to 15, assistant director Welch Agnew said.
"Over the last few months, it's kind of been like this," said Brown, 47, who joined Animal Services in 2006.
Pinellas County cut its budget 17 percent to nearly $1.7 billion for the fiscal year that started Thursday. The recession and falling property values depressed tax revenue, forcing $70 million in cuts in the general fund that pays for many government services like animal control.
The county laid off 259 people effective Wednesday, though that's lower than first expected because of retirements and resignations. Another 400 employees had to switch to other jobs.
The bulk of the layoffs, 231, were rank-and-file, hourly employees. The other 28 were salaried workers, who were professionals and managers. That includes assistant county administrator Liz Warren.
The cuts didn't cause the public to call county programs in panic Thursday. But it triggered head scratching in some halls of government as employees tried to figure out who was at what phone number in which office. The parks department moved to the county extension office, for example.
"It was like the first day of school," joked Pete Yauch, director of public works and transportation.
The cuts have occurred gradually since summer's start.
The county's two connection centers, which provided help for residents with neighborhood issues and government services, have closed.
The county also pumped $1.5 million into the budget with a wide-ranging set of fee increases, though an unpopular plan to charge admission to Fort De Soto and Fred Howard parks was scrapped.
"I think that given that it is the first day, we really won't know the extent of the impacts for probably at least a month or so," said County Commissioner Karen Seel, suggesting she's still concerned about cuts in Animal Services and other departments.
Brown said he hasn't noticed any dramatic effects in Animal Services yet.
However, the office does close on Thursdays now for adoptions and other services. Officers still respond to calls about strays and animal problems.
On Thursday morning, Brown picked up stray cats within an hour or two of calls.
"I think that was great service," said Kathy Jaconetta, 54, of Clearwater.
Michael Witty, 44, had requested a trap for a possum at his Largo home a day earlier. As Brown delivered it Thursday, Witty said the cuts were a concern.
While reductions could enforce more financial discipline, Witty rued the end of the connection centers, which helped his neighborhood.
Brown said the staff has acknowledged response times will be slower. It took an hour and a sheriff's deputy for Brown to corral Chaos into the pen on his truck and complete the paperwork.
Meanwhile, tasks awaited.
"It can set you back," Brown said.
David DeCamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8779.