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Requests put pressure on 2014 budget

Finance committee reviewing proposals

POSTED: June 5, 2013 12:29 a.m.
 

The proposed budget to continue the same levels of Forsyth County government services for 2014 falls about $1.2 million below the projected revenue of nearly $95 million.

“And then we get to all the new things and this pushes us well in the other direction,” said David Gruen, county finance director.

If all additional funding needs and requests were granted, the county would be facing a shortfall of about $6.3 million, Gruen said.

However, the finance committee continued its work to whittle down that number during a meeting Monday, aiming toward zero — a balanced budget.

Some of the largest added expenses include costs to hire, train and equip deputies for the new jail and courthouse up to six months before the facilities open in January 2015.

The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office seeks about $3.4 million for hiring, training and supplies, of which more the $2.4 million is for the jail.

The new jail and courthouse were approved by voters as part of the November 2011 referendum project list for the special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST.

Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills, who serves on the finance committee, expressed concern about the number of employees needed for the new buildings.

Mills recalled an early meeting of the project team working on the jail design in which the efficiency of the new facilities was emphasized.

“In my mind, they were saying less employees were needed,” Mills said. “That’s why I was in total shock when all of the sudden at the finance committee meeting with the sheriff that they started talking about all these hundreds of new employees that needed hiring for this state-of-the-art jail.”

County Manager Doug Derrer said the capacity of the jail will increase from 150 inmates to 608, and the sheriff’s office plans to staff up to half of the maximum, at 352 inmates.

“So that’s double what it has now,” Derrer said. “It will be a more efficient jail, but you’re doubling your inmate capacity today.”

In time, due to the efficiency of the design, he said, the staff-to-inmate ratio should drop.

Sheriff’s office officials have previously reported that the geographic division of administrative functions in the jail will also require additional non-deputy staff.

The committee discussed the savings of not having to house out inmates to other counties due to lack of space, but Commission Chairman Pete Amos said those reductions won’t be realized until 2015, when the detention center opens.

Committee members asked Derrer to continue talks with Sheriff Duane Piper to see if the budget for staffing in 2014 can be reduced further, such as delaying the hiring of administrative positions or phasing in new hires.

Piper previously asked the county to create a separate account for all funding related to the jail and courthouse so those expenses can be tracked.

The agency has also requested about $1.5 million for 37 replacement vehicles, which was included in its “same service” budget.

Past delays in purchases have pushed several pursuit vehicles into high mileage, increasing repair bills, according to the agency.

Other new facilities will require additional funding in 2014, including the animal shelter, which is expected to increase expenses by $57,500 over the current private contract.

The planned Matt Community Park and next phase of the Big Creek Greenway will incur about $195,000 in maintenance costs in 2014.

The Post Road library branch, which will open in July, will need $178,100.

New requirements associated with the state’s juvenile justice code reform are estimated to raise expenses by about $175,000.

The committee also reviewed new positions and purchases sought by various departments that initially totaled about $2.1 million in the general fund. The group recommended a yes, no or more information for each item in its three-hour session.

Gruen also presented the costs of increasing employee benefits, including nearly $600,000 to restore the 401k match to 5 percent or nearly $1 million for 3 percent merit raises.

The commission will review those options June 11, when it takes a first look at the preliminary budget.

It will then hold public hearings in July on a suggested millage rate for 2014. The finance committee previously set a goal to balance the budget without a property tax increase.

An expected $750,000 revenue increase from the tax digest and about $1.5 million more in local option sales tax revenue for 2014 could help achieve that goal.

 

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