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State lay-offs begin

There are more than 200 state employees residing in Covington County that could be affected by cuts to state agencies’ personnel budgets.

On Thurs-day, the Department of Agriculture and Indus-tries sent out layoff notices to 17 employees – making it the first state agency to publicly reduce its budget with a cut in personnel costs.

“Since coming into this office in January, we have been candid and open with employees that the Department of Agriculture and Industries is in poor fiscal health,” said Agriculture and Industries Commissioner John McMillan. “We live in extraordinary times when government at all levels is low on funding. Our situation is no different.”

During the first State of the State address of his term, Gov. Robert Bentley ordered an across-the-board cut of 3 percent in the state education budget and announced he would cut most agencies in the state General Fund budget 15 percent after working with the Legislature to protect some essential services.

With the 15 percent proration, McMillan said Agriculture and Industries’ share of the General Fund means a cut of $2.3 million immediately. The Department faces another $4.7 million cut for the 2012 fiscal year.

McMillian called his decision to cut staff “troubling.”

“But we had no other choice,” he said. “The 17 employees notified today are the first round of reductions. There will be more layoffs next week and a third round soon thereafter.”

The laid-off employees will be on the Department payroll through April, he said.

According to the most recent statistics available from the state personnel department, which cover the 2008-2009 fiscal year, 213 Covington County residents worked for a state agency. Those agencies included, were but were not limited to, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, Criminal Justice Information Center, Forestry Commission, Health Planning and Development, Human Resources, Medicaid Agency, Mental Health, Pardons and Paroles, Public Health, Public Safety, Rehabilitation Services, Veterans Affairs and Youth Services.

During the year, the state spent nearly $6.9 million in personnel costs and benefits during the year, where the average salary of a full-time classified employee was $43,448.

It is expected that officials with other state agencies will begin making announcements on how the departments plan to handle proration.