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5:07 AM Mon, Jan. 21st

County freezes 26 jobs

Mohave County Manager Ron Walker has imposed a hiring freeze for 26 vacant positions because of state budget uncertainty and how it might affect county funding.

Walker said in a prepared statement Wednesday that the positions will not be filled and he will make a recommendation to the county supervisors not to fund the jobs during the 2003-2004 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

It's the third hiring freeze in three years.

Interim County Manager Dick Skalicky imposed a freeze in March 2000 and Walker did so in March 2002.

But unlike the previous austerity measures, the new freeze does not affect all vacant positions, finance director John Timko said.

He said a majority of the 26 jobs have been vacant 10 months or longer and affect departments paid for through the general fund and Highway User Revenue Funds.

Timko described the freeze as a "precautionary measure" that is designed to save more than $800,000 during "a very tight budget year."

Timko said action by the Legislature could result in $1.3 million to $2.8 million of decreased state aid or shifting of costs for some programs to Mohave County.

"They are going to throw those numbers around until they come to a conclusion," he said of legislators.

The county will lose more than $700,000 in Highway User Revenue Funds, which come from fuel taxes, public works director Mike Hendrix said.

He said the county receives $8 million to $9 million a year in HURF funds, which go to road maintenance, engineering, signing, pavement marking and other public works spending.

It amounts to a 10 percent budget cut, Hendrix said.

Walker said he regrets having to freeze hiring but considers it more prudent than hiring someone and then cutting the position.

"It's obnoxious, but it's the lesser of the two evils," Walker said.

He said the unfilled positions would not affect service.

He said he has discussed the freeze with officials at Superior Court, adding, "We have had an excellent relationship with the courts."

The county offices and the offices under Superior Court's jurisdiction are authorized at about 1,200 employees, human resources director Geoff Riches said.

He added that 45 to 50 positions were vacant as of Thursday morning.

The freeze will affect three positions under the jurisdiction of Superior Court, said Linda Yarbrough, personnel manager.

Her office has jurisdiction over jobs at the courthouse, probation department and the juvenile detention center and mediation centers.

Yarbrough said those offices have a total of 190 positions.