County debates furloughs, cutting hours

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By Lou Elliott Jones

 Levy County Commissioners, for the first time, openly discussed the ideas of worker furloughs and cuts — such as a nine-hour, four-day work week.

Faced with a 7.3 percent drop in property tax values and tax revenues, plus a general fund budget that has been cut just about as far as possible, the commission sent the message that it is looking at cutting back hours, service hours or laying off county workers. 

Building official Rob Corbitt reminded the commissioners that county employees just started paying 3 percent of their wages into their retirement on July 1. The shorter work week would amount to a 10 percent pay cut, he said, and could also affect retirement pay.

Sheila Rees, deputy clerk for finance, said general fund revenues are expected to be $18,342,968 and expenditures are budgeted at $20,826,382, including $1,685,577 for Emergency Medical Services, fire, water and technology departments. With only $2.75 million expected to be carried over from this year's budget, the county will start the budget year on Oct. 1 with a $1,418,991 shortage.

County Coordinator Freddie Moody said the county's auditors expressed concerns about the shrinking revenues with the 7.4212 millage that has been in place for several years. He said it has gone from raising $17.9 million in 2007-2008 to a projected $13.8 million this year and $12.8 for the coming year. "It's according to how low you can go and still provide," Moody said. 

Commissioner Ryan Bell of Chiefland (R-District 4) said a 36-hour work week could save the county 4 percent. "It sounds viable for us as opposed to layoffs," he said. 

Moody warned the commission to be ready for a backlash. "We got bombarded when the 3 percent came out." He said the 3 percent retirement started with paychecks issued July 1, even though the pay covered work in the month of June. "That caught a lot of people."

Finance Clerk Jared Blanton presented the commissioners with the savings on one-day furloughs would be $23,950.93 per day.

County Property Appraiser Oz Barker, who did not attend the last budget workshop because he was coaching the CAAA team playing in Cooperstown, N.Y., was the shining example of budget cutting at Monday's meeting.

"I have cut all I can cut which is 14.6 percent," he said. "We've cut it to the bone." Since he took over the office almost three years ago, Barker has cut a total 20.2 percent from his annual spending. His office has not replaced four staffers who left or the two people who retired. "I hope to get something positive out of this," Barker said. 

Barker said he may need an increase in the 2012-2013 budget to pay for such items as the aerial photography used in property appraisals. "It helps us a lot," he said. He also mentioned changes in the program his office uses for appraisals and displaying information on the web. Barker said he has looked into finding a program that is more user friendly and costs less to maintain. 

"I appreciate what you have done," Commissioner Ryan Bell of Chiefland (R-District 4) said. "So it's not going to be a surprise next year."

While Clerk of Court Danny Shipp was not present, Deputy Clerk Kay Moody presented his budget proposal which has a 6 percent cut. At the same time, the commission was warned that it will have to find $160,000 to buy software to remove — redact — sensitive personal information from records starting Jan. 1. 

Sheriff Johnny Smith said his proposed budget was cut from $10,831,058 to $10,445,060. "I have been hearing times have been tight," Smith said. "I want you to know there are absolutely no reserves in the budget. This is the second year we don't have an emergency fund. ... Any more cuts and it's probably going to come in personnel."

Commissioner Marsha Drew of Yankeetown (R-District 3) felt it wasn't enough. "I would like you to go back and see what you can cut. " She specified another 4 percent.