County plans severe reductions to meet budget goals set by commissioners

 INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — In order to achieve orders from the Board of County Commissioners to cut taxes without impacting services, officials have proposed a 22 percent reduction in the County budget from last year’s figures which will mean the elimination of 41 government jobs. County Administrator Joe Baird said these cuts, combined with budget reduction measures already implemented over the past two years, are the deepest he’s seen in his 28-year career with the County.”We had it pretty hard in 1991, but it wasn’t as long,” Baird said. “This is worse and lasting longer.”The 1991 budget cuts were the result of economic fallout from the savings and loan meltdown and this round of cost-slashing is the result of yet another financial and real estate crisis. Baird and Office of Management and Budget Director Jason Brown said just about every County department is sharing the load of the cuts, with the 41 positions being eliminated as of October 1. This is on top of 89 positions cut at the start of fiscal year 2008-2009 and eight positions cut mid-year. Of the 39 full-time jobs being lost, 29 of those will be by attrition (not filling a position someone is vacating) and 12 will cause layoffs of current full-time employees. The road and bridge department will lose six positions by elimination of vacancies, while the building, engineering and planning departments will lose a total of nine positions due to the reduction of development, permitting and construction. Facilities management will lose two staffers. The parks and recreation departments will be reduced by a total of nine positions. Utilities bears the biggest burden with 10 positions being lost and a reorganization. Other departments will see eight fewer jobs due to miscellaneous reductions.”We had to make a lot of hard decisions this year, it’s not a budget that is easy or popular,” Baird said. Despite the jobs being lost, Brown said quite a few have been saved due to cost-cutting measures, including minor changes in employee health benefits. Medical copays will be going up by $10 per visit, which will save the County $500,000 in health premiums. The employee share of premiums will not change. A compromise agreement reached with the Teamsters Local 769 on Friday night also saved about a dozen jobs when union employees agreed to give up their merit raises in the coming year. The County continues to be on a more than two-year hiring freeze and employees will not be receiving cost of living increases.Sizeable cuts are proposed in the areas of services to children, the health department and mental health services, which Baird said were especially painful to make, as the demand for services is growing due to the economy.If commissioners adopt the recommended 3.0892 millage rate, revenues will fall by nearly $9.7 million. For the owner of a $200,000 home with homestead exemption, the new millage rate will mean a property tax savings of a mere $1.28 per year.”The County ad valorem taxes are only part of what people see on their tax bills,” Baird said. “We’re the second largest part of the tax bill, the school board is the largest.”Budget workshops will begin at 9 a.m. on Thursday, July 23 in the Commission Chambers and, if necessary, will continue on Friday, July 24. The public hearings will be September 9 and 16.


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