County hiring freeze put on ice

The County Commission wasn't ready Tuesday to put a moratorium on new jobs or on filling empty positions. But it could happen later.

Published March 14, 2007

INVERNESS - As they tighten the county's financial belt, commissioners said Tuesday that they may look at cutting jobs or instituting a hiring freeze.

Jobs created in the wake of the county's building boom may be go first, commissioners said.

Commissioner Gary Bartell said the county should change the way it approaches hiring employees.

"We need to take a real hard look at a hiring freeze, unless it's mandated or unless it's of a critical nature," he said.

Ultimately, commissioners decided it was too soon to take such a drastic step. They voted unanimously to ask County Administrator June Fisher to analyze open positions and report on whether the jobs are necessary.

"Maybe we can come up with a better policy at that point and time," Commissioner Vicki Phillips said.

Bartell said jobs created because of permitting increases should be evaluated again in light of permitting dropoffs.

He held up a list of more than a dozen open county government positions, some of which have been vacant for months.

Director of Public Safety Charles Poliseno told commissioners that was a "serious problem."

He said Citrus firefighter positions have remained vacant for months because the county's salaries are not competitive.

"We cannot hire the people for our positions that we have open right now. ... We're at the low end of the pay spectrum," he said.

In other news at Tuesday's County Commission meeting:

- Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution supporting local regulation of mining.

The vote came several hours after Charles Miko, who lives near a Cemex mine in northwest Citrus, urged commissioners to take action against a move by the state to change the way mines are regulated.

"There's a crying need for leadership and opposition to this legislation. Citrus County must insist that this program be taken off the fast track," Miko said.

Commissioners said they were concerned about the possibility state lawmakers could preempt Citrus County mining ordinances.

"I want to make sure that we have a voice in this process, and ensure that there is no preemption of our ordinances and the way we site mines and the setbacks of mining," Commissioner Joyce Valentino said.

All four of her fellow commissioners said they agreed.

"We know what's best for Citrus County. We live here," Commissioner John Thrumston said. "We understand what problems we have and the neighborhoods that it affects."

On Thursday county officials will consider contentious mining issues again. The Planning and Development Review Board is slated to vote on the county's required setback between mining and residential property. The County Commission will have the final say.

- Representatives from the Florida Communities Trust and the Trust for Public Land told commissioners about programs to help local governments preserve property.

Director of Development Services Gary Maidhof mentioned several areas in the county that he said could be ideal candidates for grant funding, including properties on U.S. 19 and a possible park area in central Citrus.

Commissioners asked him to come back with more specific information.

Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at cshoichet@sptimes.com or 860-7309.