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Budget for 2010 gets OK
Reserves fill void
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Forsyth County News
Other business
Also Monday, the Forsyth County commission approved the following items, originally on the failed Dec. 22 work session agenda, in separate 4-0 votes:

• Moving ahead on developing an ordinance that would allow wineries in the county. The matter would require public hearings.

• Acquiring more than 31 acres adjacent to Windermere Park for $250,000.

• Accepting a donated ambulance from St. Mary’s EMS for the fire department.

• Allowing the solid waste and recycling department to spend grant money for pickup service and recycling at some local parks.

Note: Commissioner Jim Harrell was absent.

— Alyssa LaRenzie
In the end, the Forsyth County commission ran out of time and options.

So to balance the 2010 budget, commissioners voted 4-0 on Monday to shift about $1.02 million from the county’s reserves. Commissioner Jim Harrell was absent.

Chairman Charles Laughinghouse thanked everyone who worked on developing the $79 million budget.

“[They’ve] come up with a budget that none of us are happy with,” he said. “But considering the circumstances that we’re operating under and what we look to and expect the future to hold for the coming year, I think they deserve a hand for the efforts they’ve put forth.”

The budget deficit at one time totaled $2.7 million, but dropped throughout the process, which included at least seven meetings since Nov. 18.

Expenses fell through cuts to various county departments and other funds, as well as eliminating budgeted vacant positions.

In addition, county employees will have seven unpaid holidays and a reduction to 401K contributions in 2010.

Furloughs, or unpaid days off, were discussed but not adopted after meeting with heavy opposition from employees.

Quarterly reviews will be scheduled to revisit the budget throughout the year.

Commissioner Patrick Bell proposed that any such meetings should be limited to discussing the budget.

The county’s finance department will also prepare monthly reports for the commission.

Using money from the reserves was an option discussed from the outset.

County policy, however, requires that the reserves equal at least 25 percent of the amount of expenditures in the budget.

At last check, the county had about $3 million more than what was required.

Some officials had cautioned against using reserves for fear that funds wouldn’t be available in the event of emergencies. The reserve balance is also used to help determine the county’s bond rating or ability to issue bonds.

Balancing the 2010 budget was complicated by a combination of the economic downturn and services having been underfunded in the past.

Internal service funds, a source of frustration for department heads, saw noticeable increases from previous years.

These costs will be completely funded in 2010, though Chief Financial Officer Bill Thomas said the deficit will need to be addressed in future budgets.

“It will be incumbent on all county staff to monitor their individual budgets to avoid overspending as this is a very, very tight budget,” he said.

Non-department budgeted expenditures, such as the vehicle replacement fund, were “significantly reduced,” Thomas said.

The water fund, which is separate from the general fund, will continue to operate at a deficit, projected to be about $7.8 million for the upcoming year.

The deficit resulted from debt services, which will need to be recouped in future years.

Revenue increases from water and sewer may help make up the projected loss. The board voted to raise rates in early 2009.

The county doesn’t expect any extra revenues in 2010, and the 2011 budget forecast looks just as bleak, due to to declining property values and commercial real estate values.