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County looking to staff, offering cash for cost-saving ideas

BROOKSVILLE — Knowing that 2012-13 property tax revenue will likely drop by $2.5 million or more, county officials have turned an eye toward their own organization to generate cost-saving ideas.

On Monday, county employees learned that they can "win green'' if they come up with good ideas to "save green.''

The special incentive suggestion program, announced by Russell Wetherington, the county's chief procurement officer, will run through Feb. 29. The grand prize for an employee or team of employees will be $500. Second place comes with a $250 prize and third place $100.

The prize money will come from the county administrator's salary fund and from the departments where the savings suggested by employees will be realized.

The incentive only makes sense, Wetherington said.

"A lot of our employees who do the day-to-day operations see more than their managers and supervisors,'' and what they often see are ways to save money or complete tasks more efficiently, he said. That's what county managers want to capture.

"It is that time of year again. Have you made your budget resolutions?'' Wetherington wrote in a memo that went to all frontline employees this week. "I have been tasked to review the fiscal year 2013 budget along with the budget folks. I would like to use a little different and unique approach this year. I would like your input.''

"Your perspective is valuable and worthwhile. Each one of you have valuable suggestions and solutions.''

Wetherington wrote that, "the three goals for Save Green Win Green are: 1) cost savings, 2) more efficient operation and 3) improved environmental impact.''

He noted that, while it was a lot to ask, he hoped every employee would make suggestions. Supervisors and managers are not eligible for the cash prizes, but Wetherington said that he suspected the prospect of prize money will have employees working hard to find savings.

"A little encouragement always helps,'' he said.

Ideas are already starting to flow in, he added.

The incentive program is part of the approach Wetherington is taking to gather information early in the year to begin building the 2012-13 budget. He has also sent a memo to county commissioners, posing a series of policy questions. That will be part of the discussion when the commission holds its first budget workshop Feb. 7.

Employees haven't always felt like they had much input in the budget process, Wetherington said.

Morale has been low, largely because of the impact of layoffs, pay cuts through furloughs and the fact everyone is doing more work than a few years ago, and he said the contest and the chance to have meaningful input should help lift employee spirits.

"They feel like nobody is listening to them,'' Wetherington said. "Their voice is very valuable, and it will be listened to.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

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