County lays off 8 in engineering department in quest to cut $10.4 million

Beaufort County has laid off eight employees in its engineering department in the first step of planned cost cuts, county administrator Gary Kubic said Monday.

The county wants to trim its $104 million general operations budget by 10 percent, Kubic said. All department heads have been asked to devise ways to reduce spending. Such cost-cutting is necessary because neither the economy nor tax revenues are expected to rebound soon, and county officials want to avoid tax increases, Kubic said.

The layoffs began Friday. More cost cutting will continue through June 30, the end of the fiscal year, but it's not certain when more layoffs might be made, Kubic said.

"We are really trying to align our level of operations with our resources," Kubic said. "We're looking at every department, every function."

The county will give priority to preserving essential services, such as law enforcement and EMS, he said.

Kubic expects the cuts to the engineering department to save more than $400,000 annually.

The department, which had 19 employees before the cuts, will shrink to eight. Three were reassigned to other county jobs, Kubic said. Among the jobs eliminated from the engineering department were surveyors, construction service workers and construction managers, he said.

They were notified Friday and Monday, and those not reassigned will receive four weeks of pay as severance. Kubic was not immediately sure how long the employees had worked for the county.

Engineering was targeted first in part because demand for that department's services has waned during the recession, he said. Those services could be outsourced to the private sector if demand returns, he said.

In addition to further reductions in the county's staff of about 1,200, cuts in other departments could come in other forms, such as consolidating office space or reducing the hours in which services are available, he said.