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Board reviews budget options
More furloughs, job cuts possible
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Forsyth County News
Faced with a shortage of time and money, Forsyth County commissioners revisited ways to balance next year’s budget.

While some talked Tuesday about using the county’s reserve funds, Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse invited former commissioners to attend a public hearing on the proposed budget Dec. 3.

He also suggested bringing them in for a public meeting and roundtable discussion of the county’s financial situation.

The commission has until the end of December to adopt the 2010 budget.

Laughinghouse said he is scheduled to meet Dec. 4 with Forsyth County Superior Court judges Jeffrey S. Bagley and David L. Dickinson to discuss their budget.

The chairman also questioned a 12 percent budget increase for the Clerk of Court’s office.

But with the first public meeting on the proposed budget next week, Commissioner Patrick Bell said, the county is in its “11th hour” and he doesn’t think there is much time left for meetings and discussions.

“We need to make some decisions and give staff direction so they can start getting this ready and we can fulfill our obligation,” Bell said.

Tuesday, the commission heard from Bill Thomas, the county’s chief financial officer, who presented a proposed budget for 2010.

The spending plan reflected a few changes from the draft commissioners reviewed during a special called work session Nov. 18.

At that time, Thomas presented a budget showing $80.7 million in expenditures, $78 million in revenues and a deficit of about $2.7 million in the general fund.

With a few adjustments, the latest draft sets general fund expenditures higher, at about $81 million, with revenues about $78 million and a deficit of about $3.1 million.

The adjustments included additions for the parks and recreation department and library and subtractions because of unpaid holiday savings and internal salary adjustments due to reassignments.

Thomas also presented the commission with three options that could lower the deficit. Each option calls for some combination of shedding jobs, lowering the county’s pension contribution, adding five furlough days and not filling vacancies.

The plans range from cutting 26 positions, which would save about $1.4 million, to 16 positions, which would equal about $900,000.

Eliminating 21 jobs, projections show, would save about $1.2 million.

The county’s pension contribution for employees could be reduced by 1 percent, 1.5 percent or 2 percent.

All three possibilities also call for lowering vehicle funds by $240,000 and keeping vacancies open, which would equal $177,500 in savings.

To avoid cutting jobs, the commissioners could choose to use reserve funds, ranging from $1.4 million to $900,000.

Thomas said the county has about $27 million in reserve funds. But after an audit expected in the spring, he estimates that amount will be closer to $23 million.

He said county policy requires that the reserves equal at least 25 percent of the amount of expenditures in the budget, meaning the county has about $3 million more than what’s required.

Commissioner Jim Harrell proposed keeping the existing vacancies and taking about $1.9 million out of reserves, but not including the five additional furlough days, cuts to vehicle funding or further staff reductions.

“I can’t go with you on the no furlough days,” Commissioner Jim Boff said.

If they were to use reserves to balance the budget, Boff suggested it might be better to pay those back first and then consider restoring employee pensions and paying for unpaid holidays.

The commission discussed whether it should include the additional furloughs in next year’s budget, with the hope of not having to use them, or keep them out and add them next year if the financial situation doesn’t improve.

The unpaid days off would apply to those employees who fall under County Manager Doug Derrer.