Alabama agencies cutting 1,100 employees

Alabama agencies cutting 1,100 employees

August 24th, 2011 by Associated Press in News

PHILLIP RAWLS, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Alabama's state government is going to have 1,100 fewer employees by this fall due to state budget cuts, the end of federal stimulus funding and different standards of care for the mentally disabled.

The state government had more than 37,000 employees when the layoffs started, and they are speeding up as agencies approach the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1. Any layoff has an impact on the state's economy because the average salary for a full-time, permanent state employee was $42,943 as of July 2010, according to the state Personnel Department.

The state Department of Mental Health is looking at a total of 582 layoffs, including 400 from the closure of Partlow Hospital in Tuscaloosa, or about one-fourth of its staff.

The state Department of Agriculture and Industries has cut 89 employees since spring due to budget cuts, or nearly one-fourth of its staff.

At Alabama's trial courts, 252 employees in circuit clerks' offices and 20 in state administrative offices are being laid off at the end of the month. That, coupled with the layoffs of 151 juvenile probation officers, bailiffs and court administrative employees in the spring, will bring the total cuts to 423, or 20 percent of the staff, including elected officials.

The courts' legal director, Griffin Sikes, said they've gone beyond cutting fat and muscle. "We're down to cutting bone," he said.

The public is already seeing the impact in shorter hours for court clerks' offices and delayed trials. The most prominent was that of Gabe Watson, the Birmingham man charged with killing his wife on a honeymoon diving trip to Australia. A judge postponed Watson's trail nine months to February 2012 because of a shortage of bailiffs and other court personnel caused by layoffs.

There is some hope for a few employees. Court spokesman Dean Hartzog said 108 of the employees in court clerks' offices who are being laid off by the state next week are going to be hired at least temporarily by local governments At the Agriculture Department, 27 of the 89 laid-off employees are eligible to draw state retirement benefits.

Departments have looked for ways to maintain services while cutting employees. At the Agriculture Department, some functions have continued by raising fees and by turning over operations to others.

For example, Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery will be operated by the Alabama National Fair for one year. Also, a private publisher is going to produce the Farmers' Bulletin, which is full of ads for everything imaginable in agriculture from homegrown day lilies to pick-them-yourself pea patches.

"We are looking for ways out of the box to operate the place without relying on the General Fund as much," Deputy Commissioner Brett Hall said Monday.

The Department of Agriculture is seeing its General Fund appropriation decline 8 percent to $12 million for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

The trial courts are seeing their appropriation drop 18 percent to nearly $104 million.

The Department of Mental Health is getting a 28 percent increase in its General Fund appropriation, to $116 million, but the department will still have a $14 million shortfall because of the loss of federal stimulus funds, Commissioner Zelia Baugh said.

The 400 layoffs at Partlow Hospital in Tuscaloosa are due to its planned closure in November. Its residents are being transferred to other facilities run by private organizations and community groups, which has been the trend in the department for several years and is not directly related to budget problems, department spokesman John Ziegler said.

The other 182 layoffs are throughout the agency and are due primarily to budget problems, he said.

Other state agencies are struggling, too. On July 28, the state Department of Public Safety cut 38 troopers from the state payroll, but immediately rehired them using federal grant money. The department is facing a $6 million budget shortfall, and the grant will cover almost half of that. Their job status is conditional, but state Personnel Director Jackie Graham said the grant should keep them on board for three years.

Some state agencies have had smaller cuts, including seven at Alabama Public Television. The Alabama Criminal Justice Information System is planning eight layoffs Oct. 1.

Other agencies aren't planning layoffs because they rely on federal funding or have stable revenue sources, such as state taxes that are set aside for them by state law. Still others are waiting on any layoff decisions until they see how many state workers will retire in the next few months due to higher payments for their retirement benefits and changes in their health insurance coverage.

"Right now, it's wait and see," Graham said.

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