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Salvation Army lays off 4

Two factors are falling donations and rising costs from a new building.

With income down and expenses rising, Tom Vick did what a lot of other chief executives are doing these days: He ordered layoffs.

But Vick is not like most other CEOs. He's a local commanding officer in the Salvation Army _ which has a mission, in part, to help people who don't have jobs.

Last week, the Salvation Army of West Pasco increased the ranks of Pasco's jobless by four. Vick ordered the layoffs in an effort to cope with falling donations and a potential $134,000 budget shortfall. Vick says the agency's capacity to serve the needy won't be hindered because some of its 130 volunteers will do the jobs that paid employees once did.

"We agonized over this for quite a while, but we have to stay in operation and not at a deficit," Vick said. "It's important for us to restructure at this point to make sure that we stay open."

Vick blames the problems in part on the increased costs of operating the $3-million building the agency opened last year at 7745 Ridge Road. The electric bill for the 26,000-square-foot pink stucco structure is $3,000 per month. That's more than twice what it was in the old facility, Vick said.

Those who lost their jobs worked at the social services Center of Hope on Washington Street, where the agency serves 30 to 35 evening meals per day and takes the information of people who need help paying for clothing, furniture, rent and electricity.

The four employees who were laid off are: a cook in the soup kitchen, the social services director, a receptionist and a maintenance man. Each person was paid for one week of work, then paid for another week without work so that they would have time to look for other jobs. None of them had worked the five years required to qualify for severance pay.

Volunteer coordinator Jeanne Coulter will operate the social services center and manage the volunteers.

Vick said that donations, which finance day-to-day operations, are down by about 20 percent from last year's. During the holiday season, the main fundraising time, donations were down all over the state, he said.

"It could have something to do with the economy or the elections, but donations always drop during recessions," Vick added.

The local office has a $581,000 budget for the 2001 fiscal year ending Sept. 30. "If we didn't do something, we were going to be about $134,000 short," Vick said.

With the layoffs, the agency will save about $48,000 per year. In order to make up the balance of the shortfall, he is planning a major fundraising event in November. He and his staff are looking to trim other line items from the budget, but no additional layoffs are planned at this point, he said.

The Salvation Army has six paid employees at its Ridge Road facility and 10 employees at its Domestic Violence Center in Hudson. That shelter is financed by grants.

The Ridge Road building was planned in the early 1990s because of anticipated future needs, Vick said. Its opening prompted criticism from some citizens who questioned why a group with such a beautiful facility was still asking for money.

Throughout the Salvation Army organization, funds from legacies and trusts can be used only for capital improvements such as buildings.

"People give us their life savings when they pass away, and if you use it in operations it's gone quickly," he said. "If you put it into buildings and land, it's more of a memorial to them."

"It was thought that the facility would be needed in Pasco, and the money through legacies and trusts just kept coming in," he said.

While the number of meals the Center of Hope serves has stayed the same as the nation has entered a recession, the number of cases of people needing other kinds of assistance has dropped by about 30 percent over last year, Vick said.

"I would imagine that with the economy, that number would go up," Vick said. "But it's hard to tell. In 30 years, I still can't tell you all the reasons why it fluctuates. Sometimes it has to do with reasons that aren't economic _ sometimes the breadwinner leaves the family, and other things happen that you can't predict."

_ Staff writer Ryan Davis contributed to this report._ Jennifer Goldblatt covers business in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6229 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6229. Her e-mail address is goldblattsptimes.com.

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