published Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Clerk layoffs not fortelling, officials say


by Matt Wilson

PDF: Knowles announcement

ON THE WEB

Tennessee drivers may renew their car registrations at www.countyclerkanytime.com.

Hamilton County Clerk Bill Knowles' announcement that he had to lay off five deputy clerks is no indication that more layoffs are coming, county and city officials said.

"We still want to avoid it," County Mayor Claude Ramsey said. "We're watching it very closely."

Mr. Knowles said the clerks were laid off because of a reduction in fee collections.

Mr. Ramsey said the county has started a policy of leaving some positions vacant once they come open as a way of avoiding laying employees off.

"We're paying close attention to those vacancies as they occur," he said.

Still, Mr. Ramsey said he can't guarantee there won't be further layoffs until the county's budget picture for next year becomes clearer, though officials will try to avoid them. He said the county has no control over funding from outside sources, such as state government.

Richard Beeland, spokesman for Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, said city officials are not planning any layoffs right now.

Mr. Knowles said in his statement, released over the weekend, that he was driven to lay off the five employees because of "loss of fees resulting from a slowed vehicle transaction market, the reduction of sales taxes collected from vehicle sales and the looming change in business tax deposits procedures."

A state law change last year moved the responsibility for business tax collections from local jurisdictions to the Tennessee Department of Revenue.

"Our office has been hit harder than some of the other offices because of the nature of (the fees collected)," Mr. Knowles said.

The staff reductions allowed the clerk's office to "avoid going into the red," Mr. Knowles said, though he called the layoffs "extremely painful."

The reduced staff could make waits at the clerk's office somewhat longer, but he said his remaining staff would work to avoid long waits.

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