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LAID-OFF WORKERS CROWD COUNTY'S JOB FAIR

Attendees check out PHCC and learn about open positions with other local governments.

Nobody needs to tell Jennifer Leek just how bad the labor market is.

First her husband lost his job with a surveying company. Then, last week, Leek learned she'd lost her job with Pasco County.

So at a county-sponsored job fair on Monday, Leek held onto a pamphlet from Pasco-Hernando Community College and thought about what she'd been telling her two children about getting a good education.

"I think my best bet is to go back to school," said Leek, 38, who worked for two years as a home delivery driver for the county's elderly nutrition program.

She isn't the only county employee rethinking what comes next.

Leek is one of 98 workers, nearly all support staff, who got pink slips Thursday as a result of budget cuts and an effort to streamline county operations. The facilities and parks and recreation departments took the biggest hits.

Pasco officials say they hope they can rehire a number of the laid-off workers in positions created as commissioners have added back some services originally proposed to be cut. Pasco now has more than 60 job openings.

Other local governments had booths at Monday's fair as well, including Polk County, which has about a dozen openings; Hillsborough County, which has about 30; and the city of Tampa, which advertised about half a dozen. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has openings for child protection investigators.

Renee Floyd-Whitfield, who works in Polk County's personnel department, said she talked to a few Pasco workers who have just a few years left before they can retire. For them, she said, commuting to Polk County for a short period could make sense - as long as the commute doesn't eat up their paychecks.

"What I'm hearing is it depends on what the pay will be," she said.

Caprice Thompkins, who works for Tampa's personnel department, said she had openings that could appeal to laid-off workers, particularly those who work in maintenance. The downside for senior Pasco employees is that Tampa is not on the state retirement system, she said.

Still, she said, "hopefully we'll be able to place a couple."

But with so many people looking for work, some of the laid-off employees questioned their chances.

Two parks and recreation workers, Kris Kman and Ted Laurenti, found out last week they are losing their jobs as the number of attendants at Starkey Park is reduced from six to three next year.

On Monday, they arrived, in county uniform, at the fair, certain they would apply for something but unsure of what they could qualify for.

"It'll be hit and miss," said Kman, 27, a nearly six-year employee.

Laurenti, 56, who has also worked for Pasco for six years, said the demand for jobs outstripped the supply at the moment.

"There's so many of us here from parks and rec," he said. "There's not going to be enough (jobs) for all of us."

Another employee looking for work is David Baughman, 59, who has held a $11-an-hour job in the purchasing department for a year.

He said he wasn't sure what comes next: He's too young for Social Security but worries he's too old to get hired.

As he stood in the corner of the fair Monday, he said he figured his best bet was applying for government work.

"Face it," he said. "I'm not going to get a job in the private sector in this market."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

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