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Lingering recession prompts new round of Haywood job cuts

Haywood County commissioners have cut five full-time jobs and frozen four open positions to stave off a projected budget shortfall for the current fiscal year.

It marks the third straight year commissioners have cut county jobs to counter recession-driven budget deficits. Commissioners held a work session on the issue last week, where County Manager Marty Stamey suggested the job cuts to keep the budget in check.

The job cuts will target county departments involved in the construction trade. Building is still off from pre-recession levels, with a requisite drop in workload for county building inspectors, erosion control officers and well and septic tank permiters. Those departments are also bringing in less in fees. Stamey showed commissioners financial data to demonstrate the decline in building and real-estate-centric services.

The cuts will take the county down to 507 full-time positions, the smallest number of staff they’ve employed since they started keeping count in 2005. The employee count peaked out in 2009, when the county employed 557 full-time staff members, and the number has been dropping steadily every year, to 534 then 516.

Making the cuts would, he said, save the county $200,000 in the 2011-12 fiscal year, while keeping the four unfilled positions frozen would save an extra $250,000, for a total of $450,000 in savings.

Stamey recommended freezing the assistant county manager position, a title he formerly held until being promoted to the top job last fall. Other open positions that will be frozen include project specialist, IT technician and a human resource specialist.

Commissioners questioned Stamey about what effect these cuts would have on county staff, whether they would require layoffs or could be achieved through early retirements.

“Do they have people that are close to being ready to retire?” Commissioner Mike Sorrells asked of the three departments going under the axe. Stamey answered that, yes, some did, but it remains to be seen whether all five positions can be eliminated with retirements or relocations.

Commissioner Bill Upton expressed his reservations, saying he wasn’t sure how much further they could go following last year’s cuts.

“Down the road, it’s going to be tough, because I thought last year we got down to the bare bones and this is probably getting into the bone a little bit,” said Upton.

“We’re drilling into bone,” replied Stamey, who said that remaining county staff have been working increasingly hard over the last two years to makeup for the shortfall caused by losing colleagues.

Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick noted that in governmental situations it isn’t as easy to adjust budgets to revenues as it might be in business, because there’s still a certain threshold of services that need to be provided, regardless of how many people use them.

That is, in part, why trimming any more fat will be difficult going forward, and with $3.7 billion in state budget cuts looming, Commissioner Chairman Mark Swanger said he was uncomfortable with the unknown of what that might do to county budgets.

“The unknown here is what bothers me, what kinds of costs will be going to counties,” said Swanger. “It remains unknown what effect it will have on our budget, but it will not be a positive effect.”

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