Palm Beach County told to cut 900 jobs to save taxpayers $29 million a year

Palm Beach County government could outsource or eliminate more than 900 jobs to save taxpayers $29 million a year, according to an efficiency consultant hired to find ways to cut spending.

Lifeguards, secretaries, computer specialists, golf course employees, security guards, plumbers and mechanics are among those who could have their jobs sacrificed under the proposal from the accounting firm Gerstle, Rosen & Goldenberg, which goes before the County Commission Tuesday.

But a barrage of pink slips is far from a certainty because the County Commission has balked at widespread layoffs and questioned whether outsourcing could deliver the same services residents expect from parks to transportation.

Even with the county facing a nearly $15 million budget shortfall, laying off hundreds of employees would be a tough sell to the County Commission.

"I don't think wholesale laying people off helps our community," County Commission Chairwoman Shelley Vana said.

The county has tried some outsourcing — including janitorial crews and benefits workers — but stopped short of taking a bigger dip into privatization.

Commissioner Steven Abrams, a privatization backer, contends that outsourcing would save taxpayers money and doesn't have to cost county employees their jobs. An outsourcing contract can require a new vendor to hire the existing county employees, Abrams said.

"It enables government in tough economic times to continue to provide a service at a cheaper cost to the taxpayer," said Abrams, who was still reviewing he consultant's recommendations. "I'm certainly going to approach it with an open mind."

The consultant is getting nearly $50,000 to help look for county cost savings.

Its report calls for outsourcing nearly 700 jobs at a projected savings of $12 million per year.

Outsourcing can reduce labor costs because private companies can avoid paying workers the same salary and benefits as the county.

The county "needs to re-direct its management efforts in order to preserve its accomplishments with fewer dollars to spend but still has the ever present demand for services as previously provided," according to the report.

Also, doing away with duplicate operations among some of the branches of county government — such as the tax collector, clerk of courts, property appraiser and supervisor of elections – could save almost another $6 million a year, according to the report.

Multiple departments having their own technology and financial employees, instead of pooling those services, is one of the suspected inefficiencies identified by the consultant.

Consolidating more IT services could save up to $3 million a year, according to the report.

The county has "many departments operating as an 'island unto itself' with redundant common services," according to the consultant.

Some of the suggested cutbacks, including scaling back on ocean lifeguards and county pools, already have been rejected by the County Commission.

Others don't explain how the county would save money and keep providing existing services.

"What happens after all these people are dropped?" county Finance and Budget Director Liz Bloeser asked. "Our problem is, it's short on specifics."

Vana said she's willing to listen to the consultant's suggestions and that the report likely can be used to help find savings.

That doesn't necessarily mean more outsourcing, said Vana, who contends privatizing can end up diminishing county services valued by the public.

"It doesn't seem like you save money in the long term," Vana said.

The county hired an efficiency consultant to get "another pair of eyes" looking for ways to rein in costs, Vana said.

Despite raising property-tax rates three years in a row to go along with cutbacks that range from roads to parks, the county faces a nearly $15 million shortfall. That shortfall is blamed on the still-struggling economy's effect on tax revenues, combined with county debts.


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