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Utilities shake-up starts

Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 06:08 PM

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A top-down reorganization of the Hernando County utilities department is under way and every position and operation of the department is being evaluated.

That review, being conducted by upper management and audit services, is expected out in a few months. It is being done in coordination with a separate review being done by the Florida Governmental Utility Authority , which has expressed interest in taking control of the operations.

Susan Goebel-Canning, who is part of the review, said she is aware of rumors circulating about pending layoffs. But she advises all employees to wait for the report and continue doing their jobs. The utilities department has 165 budgeted positions.

"The idea of reorganization is always scary but we ask that everybody just keep doing their job," Goebel-Canning said. "The rumors are getting out of hand and they are not necessarily true."

Goebel-Canning said nobody has lost their jobs yet and it is too early to comment on any proposed reorganization plans.

"We are looking at the division as a whole and some reorganization may be made there," she said. "We are looking at every position that's out there."

County Administrator Len Sossamon will review the final proposal, she said.

Paul Douglas, first vice president of the Hernando County branch of the NAACP, said morale at utilities is low in anticipation of both reports,

"I am surprised that the county is making these moves without union participation," Douglas said. "Most of the reorganization involves union membership."

Douglas said employees believe jobs will be eliminated and employees will be made to reapply at lower pay grades.

County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said he has not heard of any reclassification of jobs or layoffs in utilities or other departments and has met with Sossamon and Goebel-Canning.

"There is no concerted effort in utilities (to) do a restructure to the point where we are pulling job descriptions or we're laying people off," he said. "I'm sure I would have known about it."

Dukes said even if FGUA comes back and says it can save the county 20 percent or more money by taking over the utility, it is doubtful commissioners would sanction such a move "based on the negative impact to the employees."

Commissioners last month voted to authorize FGUA to conduct a study of the Hernando County Utilities operation and submit a report summarizing the findings.

The report, supplied free of charge, could be used to help determine the feasibility of selling the utilities operation to the authority and whether any efficiencies could be realized.

The FGUA is a coalition of several local governments that retain some control over their utility operations through a representative on the authority's board of directors.

Commissioners have said they are a bit wary of potentially selling the system to FGUA but are willing to evaluate the report to see if any efficiencies could be realized.

Goebel-Canning said the FGUA report prompted this separate internal report because it is a good idea to "look at all the opportunities (in) every department in order to keep things functioning effectively and efficiently."

Goebel-Canning said the county landfill underwent a similar reorganization about three years ago and the county laid off employees because the operation was in a deficit situation.

Today, thanks to those cuts, the landfill is working more effectively, she said. (352) 544-5290

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