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Published: Thursday, 4/28/2005

Monroe County freezes hiring as revenues continue to fall

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - A loss of revenue for three consecutive years and rising expenses have prompted Monroe County's Board of Commissioners to implement a hiring freeze on all county jobs.

The freeze includes not replacing employees who retire unless special circumstances warrant replacement.

Last fall, as the commission prepared its 2005-06 budget, Administrator Charles Londo said that although tax revenue will increase 4.5 percent this year, revenue-sharing contributions from the state will go down, and interest earnings will decrease by $225,000.

The most significant loss of revenue will be a decrease of $1 million from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, which pays the county to hold INS detainees in the county jail.

Meanwhile, a report by Standard & Poors released this month said the county has lost more than 4,000 jobs in recent years, further affecting the county's bottom line, according to Mr. Londo.

As with most government entities, health care costs have hurt the bottom line. In Monroe, costs will increase by 15 percent for the third consecutive year. Health care costs for retirees also will increase dramatically by a yet-to-be-determined amount.

Last year, when projected revenue did not match anticipated expenses, the board appropriated $536,818 from the county's reserve fund and eliminated 14 jobs. This year, the county has had to use money from its unreserved fund balance for operations expenses.

Since 2002, 30 county jobs have been eliminated. Also, a number of nonmandated programs and services have been cut.

Mr. Londo said he believes that some county departments need to do a better job utilizing the new technology it has invested in, which would reduce the impact of a smaller workforce.

"They're not fully looking at the technology they've been given," he said.

Commissioner William Sisk said he is concerned that some county departments might suffer if, as expected, some key employees retire this year.

"There are people we need to think about replacing down the road," he said.

Board Chairman Jerry Oley said the hiring freeze has some flexibility.

"We'll look at things on a case-by-case basis," he said.

Mr. Londo says the near future appears bleak. Should the current trend continue, the county could use up all of its reserves in three to five years.

"If we see a rebound in revenues we might be able to stop the moratorium," he said. "[And] if the county continues to grow we might be able to hire some [employees] back. I don't see that happening for several years, if at all. [And] it might be five to 10 years before we return to the 2002 level."

Contact George Tanber at:

gtanber@theblade.com

or 734-241-3610.



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