The state has reduced its workforce by 484 positions in the past year as the result of a hiring freeze put into effect in October 2016, Gov. Pete Ricketts said this week.

Ricketts said non-essential jobs were targeted to help the state manage the budget.

Reductions were made in a dozen agencies, although some of those involved transfers or mergers into other agencies. For example, the Aeronautics Department became part of the new Department of Transportation, and 18 positions were moved there. In addition, 743 veterans home staff and administrator positions were transferred from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The largest reduction came in HHS, which lost about 230 positions. The Department of Transportation is down 121 positions. Several departments gained a few employees.

The head count in the governor’s agencies was 13,786 in October 2016, and had been reduced to 13,302 as of Dec. 1, a reduction of 3.5 percent, Ricketts said in a news release.

The positions were reduced through attrition and retirement, he said.

In addition to the reduction in head count, about 1,500 vacant positions have also been closed, he said.

The hiring freeze will remain in place for the foreseeable future, Ricketts said. Critical positions in state agencies, such as the Department of Corrections, have been exempted from the hiring freeze to protect public safety and support service delivery, he said.

In October 2017, Ricketts issued a directive ordering continuation of the hiring freeze, a travel ban, limited equipment purchases and budget restraint for all state agencies, boards and commissions.

It included reduced quarterly allotments of appropriations to state agencies, boards and commissions of 1 percent in the third and fourth quarters, to prepare for possible budget reductions.

Agencies were also advised to prepare for budget reductions based on a revised forecast to be presented to the Legislature in the upcoming session.

The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board lowered its estimate in October for how much the state will collect in taxes this fiscal year by about $100 million, and $123 million in 2018-19, compared with its April estimate. Those numbers erased a previously projected surplus and left $195 million for state lawmakers to make up in the legislative session that begins next month.

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