Thursday, June 21, 2018
News Roundup

Workforce board forced to make cuts

Laid-off workers looking for work will get less help from the Pasco Hernando Workforce Board this year.

State and federal budget cuts mean that the agency, which spends $4.1 million to operate three Career Central one-stop centers in both counties for job assistance, will see 19 percent less funding than the current budget year, which ends June 30.

"We've cut our pockets, our budgets, very deep," workforce board director Jerome Salatino told Pasco County commissioners at a meeting this month. "Our administration is only 8 percent. That's a very thin line."

He didn't blame the bulk of the cuts on any one thing, but did note that federal stimulus funds, which flowed more freely during the recession, have dried up as the economy begins to recover.

"What happens is cyclical with workforce boards," said Mark Barry, a longtime workforce board member. "It goes with the ebb and flow of unemployment."

The result is that about 25 positions will be cut, either through attrition, reducing some to part time or layoffs. The board is also closing its headquarters at the Hernando County Airport Industrial Park, with employees working from the three one-stop centers. One is based in New Port Richey, while another is in Spring Hill. The third, on Gall Boulevard in Zephyrhills, will likely be moved to a smaller, less expensive site when its lease expires in April.

Salatino recently asked the Pasco County commissioners for help in finding a new spot.

"We know it's important to stay on (the east) side of the county," he said.

Commissioner Henry Wilson Jr. asked that the county follow up and see if there's a place to put a one-stop center.

Salatino told the Tampa Bay Times this week that the agency had talked to a representative from the Dade City Business Center about a possible deal, though nothing had been finalized.

"We've got a few different things we're working on," he said.

Another effect of the cuts is that the mobile one-stop bus, which now is out about four days a week, will be seen less often. Also, due to state cuts in welfare transition programs, the agency will have fewer dollars to provide things such as bus passes, transitional child care and other support services for those trying to make the switch from welfare to work.

"We have a staff member who's qualified to drive it do that on a part-time basis," he said.

Salatino said the agency has spent the past several years working to put more services online to save money.

Clients can have a live chat with a staffer, get information about job listings and career fairs and get guidance on how to write resumes and prepare for interviews.

"We understand with funding being the way it is that we have to continue to serve one way or the other, and that's one of the ways we can do that," he said.

Salatino said the website gets about 88,000 visits per year. The agency partners with public libraries so that those without Internet service can get help.

"Many of our customers can access us via smartphone or somewhere else out in the community," he said.

Even though both counties' unemployment rate has slipped back into single digits, the agency still sees a healthy demand for services. Figures show 117,000 people visited the one-stop centers in 2012-2013. The year before that, 126,000 visitors sought help.

"There's still a heavy demand for service even though the economy has picked up a little," Salatino said, noting the agency served about 120,000 people last year.

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