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County may review 2 days off

County leaders may soon reconsider their decision to let their employees off on two Jewish holidays.

Uncomfortable with having more paid holidays than most communities, County Administrator John Gallagher might ask county commissioners to review their recent decision to add Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to the county's holiday schedule.

First he said he wants to finish gathering information about holiday schedules elsewhere. But Gallagher said Monday he has not found another government body recognizing those two holidays _ not even in areas such as Dade County that have large Jewish populations.

County leaders last month reluctantly agreed to add the two holidays because Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Court had done so for court employees.

The decision by Chief Judge Ray E. Ulmer led Clerk of Court Jed Pittman to say he would add the two holidays as well. Other elected officials decided to do the same so that some Pasco government offices would not be open and others closed.

Pinellas County shares the same court circuit, but leaders there are not considering adding Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashana as holidays. "We haven't had any discussion of it," said Pinellas County personnel director Jack Houk.

In Pasco, the issue has prompted criticism in letters to the newspaper and some watchdog groups about wasting taxpayers' money.

The days off bring to 12 the number of holidays for more than 2,500 county employees.

County employees who must work on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana would require roughly $150,000 inholiday pay. The cost for those taking the days off would be $230,000, the personnel department estimated.

Such costs have raised eyebrows at a time when the county is complaining about tough fiscal times and considering charging the public fees for using Pasco's parks and recreation facilities.

The expense also has provided a strong campaign issue for County Commissioner Ed Collins, the only board member who voted against the added holidays. His colleagues regularly criticize him for approving unbudgeted expenses, but he opposed this one.

Arthur Bickel, chairman of the Jewish Community Center's religious committee, said he has heard few Jewish people express an opinion about the added holidays. "Personally, I don't think the government offices should be closed. There are too many holidays," he said.

Tax Collector Mike Olson and Property Appraiser Ted Williams, meanwhile, have told their employees to consider the Jewish holy days as tentative holidays and not make plans for them yet.

"I don't think either one of us felt comfortable with this thing and we weren't from the very beginning," Olson said. He said he would like to see all constitutional officers _ the sheriff, clerk of court, supervisor of elections, property appraiser and tax collector _ keep their offices open those days.

"I just do not want to see my employees working when some other constitutional officer is giving his employees the day off," Olson said.

But Collins said he has little sympathy for the elected officials worried about morale problems if their offices stay open when others are closed.

"If these constitutional officers can close down their offices for two days, then don't come to me at budget time and say, "I've got too much work. I need more money (for employees),'

" Collins said.

Clerk of Court Pittman, who has said he will follow whatever the courts do, could not be reached for comment Monday.

The Sheriff's Office already offers its employees a "floating" holiday that other Pasco government offices do not receive. The office expects to apply that benefit to one of the Jewish holidays.

Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning said he expects to require his employees to work on Yom Kippur because it falls on the election primary day. The holiday schedule merely means his workers will receive extra pay.

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