Ala. Ag. Dept. starts first round of layoffs

Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan
Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The state of Alabama's Agriculture Department is laying off 17 employees due to budget cuts. Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan said it's just the first round of numerous pink slips to come.

McMillan plans more cuts next week as the department prepares for a 15 percent budget reduction this year and an additional 30 percent next year. In total, the Ag. Department expects to cut 60 jobs by the end of the year.

The most recent round of laid-off employees will be on the payroll until the end of April.

With 15 percent proration, McMillan said Agriculture & 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.

McMillan said his department is bracing for the future, in order to avoid more cuts down the road. He would not say which parts of the department would feel the layoffs the most, but would confirm his priorities to protect he consumer and food safety divisions.

Layoffs, according to McMillan, were the last resort.

"It's extremely difficult," McMillan said, "because no matter what size the state agency is it's a family to a large degree..."

The Ag. Department isn't alone trying to grapple with tightening budgets. Other state departments are expected to announce layoffs in the coming days. The state finance director's office said losing teacher positions was a near certainty during budget hearings last month.

McMillan said the department should reconsider what it oversees and that would probably lessen its financial burdens.

"When the next year or two passes we'll be able to pretty much reconstitute this agency and we'll have a smaller agency hopefully with some less responsibility" he said.

Among the divisions that McMillan intended to protect were the consumer safety, food safety, and meat processing divisions.

The department requested $21 million from the General Fund but Governor Bentley only appropriated $8.4 million. That money is in addition to the $19.5 million the department will receive in earmarked funds.

Copyright 2011 by WSFA 12 News. The Associated Press contributed to this report.