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Budget heading back to officials
Gap will close if all cut up to 2 percent
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Forsyth County News

The Forsyth County finance committee finished sharing its recommendations on the 2012 budget Thursday morning and will send the numbers back to the various departments and offices for review.

Department heads and constitutional officers will be asked to cut 1.5 to 2 percent of their budgets in an attempt to close a preliminary budget gap of about $1.3 million.

County figures show projected 2012 revenue of about $90.2 million, while the current status of 2012 expenses totals about $91.5 million.

County commissioners indicated they do not wish to increase the millage rate this year to cover the gap.

Commissioner Patrick Bell, who also serves on the finance committee, said staff and elected officials will have a better idea of what can be cut from their budgets than an outside group.

If each department or office reduced its budget by 1.5 percent, the budget gap could be closed.

"We have identified things that the board is not interested in funding," Bell said. "This forces department directors and officers to take a second look at their budgets … and run a tight ship."

Other options to continue narrowing that gap include reducing the 3 percent cost-of-living increase proposed for staff, leaving some holidays unpaid or drawing from the county’s reserve fund.

Some more cost-saving possibilities aired during the committee’s meeting included using inmate labor or seeking sponsorships for amenities.

"Let’s see how much we can save before we dip into savings," said Bell of using the county’s reserves.

Finance director David Gruen said the reserve fund is at an estimated $26 million, which slightly exceeds the county’s policy to keep that balance at 25 percent of the budget.

Gruen explained that reserves can be used to supplement a budget, though that’s not a preferred option.

The estimated budget gap first totaled about $3.1 million.

The finance committee reached the current figure by finding about $1.2 million in cuts. It also considered the possible tax rate benefit to the general fund of about $620,000 and included a $500,000 transfer from the solid waste fund.

In addition, the committee added in a few requests from the new budget items list, totaling about $480,000.

The majority of that amount came from parks and recreation, of which about $318,000 worth of new items were recommended for approval.

Those included operating costs for two recreation centers that are under construction and money to open four green space parks for part of the year.

Opening for the three green space parks north of the city would be delayed until 2013.

The finance committee felt Forsyth’s shortfall, while not ideal, paled in comparison to the situation in other nearby counties.

"We’re not in a great position," Bell said. "But considering what’s going on, we’re in a great position."