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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ag commissioner announces layoffs

The commissioner of the state’s agriculture department has started notifying about 60 workers they will be laid off to make cuts necessary to balance the budget.
Commissioner John McMillan said the department informed 17 people this week that they were being laid off and expects to announce more layoffs next week. Those employees who are laid off will remain on the payroll through April.
He said he is trying to cut personnel without affecting the departments that handle food safety and consumer protection. McMillan said he is eliminating the two-person international trade section.
The commissioner said international trade is "mighty important," but not as important as the department’s duties inspecting poultry flocks and meat processors in the state to try to catch any instances of avian flu, hoof and mouth disease, or any other disease or danger.
The department, as evidenced by the stickers on gas pumps throughout the state, is also responsible for inspecting pumps and scales such as those in grocery stores.
The agriculture department is in the last tier of priorities for the administration of Gov. Robert Bentley. In that tier, all departments or agencies are cut at least 45 percent.
McMillan said he knew when he entered the office in January that "we had some challenges, but I didn’t have any idea." He said he was expecting about 10 percent proration in the General Fund this year and about 15 percent cuts for the 2012 budget.
Instead, most agencies in the General Fund are facing 15 percent proration, across the board cuts declared by the governor to balance the budget.
McMillan said that proration led to an immediate cut of $2.3 million and that the department faces another $4.7 million cut in the 2012 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
"It's deeply troubling, but we have had no other choice but to reduce staff," McMillan said.
McMillan said he brought four employees with him when he started as commissioner including at least one that worked for his campaign.
"The people that I brought in I chose very carefully for their knowledge and experience with the intent of making a good many changes in the department," he said. McMillan said he wanted them to help analyze and evaluate issues at the department.
"They have the ability to work hard. They are going to have to shoulder a lot more of the load, as is everybody that will still be out there."

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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