A directive issued by City Manager John Schneiger banning his department heads from discussing possible layoffs with employees has prompted a City Council member to warn against creating panic at City Hall.
In recent weeks, Schneiger has said publicly that the city's impending economic crisis will likely mean layoffs. New Port Richey owes substantial debt on a couple of redevelopment sites, while the city's property tax base took an 11 percent plunge this year and two electric utility funds are bringing in less money than expected.
With employees anxious about losing their jobs, some department heads have had discussions with their workers about possible layoffs. Schneiger said such conversations are premature. Officials have not yet determined which jobs may be cut.
"I wanted to send you this email to make it crystal clear to please not discuss any potential layoffs with any employees at this time," Schneiger wrote to his department heads Tuesday. "Our submittal of the budget will include any recommendations of reductions in force and until that time it is totally inappropriate to discuss this."
Schneiger's email continued: "Please remember that we are making only recommendations to the City Council on programs, services and staffing. It is the council that makes those decisions. When those recommendations are made to council we will inform affected employees that those recommendations have been made."
The email - which Schneiger also copied to City Council members - prompted council member Bill Phillips to question at Tuesday's meeting whether a climate of "panic" has been created.
"I understand that he had to send the email out," Phillips told the Times on Wednesday. "But when you put (the prospect of layoffs) out in the papers two weeks ago, you're going to have that. My concern is we haven't even seen a preliminary budget yet. I just didn't like the timing."
Schneiger said he has tried to be transparent with the public and communicate the difficult financial problems the city faces. But he said officials are still determining when or where the job cuts will be made, and how much money the city needs to save.
So with so much still up in the air, Schneiger said his email was an effort to stem any speculation about layoffs until the preliminary budget is completed.
"It's just premature right now for our department heads to be talking about it with employees. It's just not appropriate to get people worked up," he said.
Before the proposed budget goes to the council this month, Schneiger said, city employees will be informed whether their position had been recommended for funding.
"They will be our recommendations, but in the end it will be up to the council," he said.