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Budget talks heat up
Employees lobby to keep pay increases
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Forsyth County News
Talk of job cuts and no pay raises drew the ire of a large crowd at the first public hearing on changes to Forsyth County’s 2009 budget.

Forsyth County Sheriff’s Sgt. Eric Silveus told county commissioners Thursday that the idea was “a disgrace.”

“We look back at the bad financial decisions made by past and present commissioners,” Silveus said. “You don’t have to look far to see wasteful spending in the areas of severance packages for county managers, unequal compensation for the city of Cumming and overpriced land deals.”

Facing a budget shortfall, the county commission is considered eliminating 23 staff positions and doing away with merit and cost of living increases for employees.

Bill Thomas, the county’s chief financial officer, told commissioners Thursday that revenues for fiscal year 2009 budget are projected at $86.7 million, down from a previous estimate of $103.7 million. That reflects a shortfall of 16.4 percent.

No action was taken on the matter Thursday. A second, and final, public hearing is set for Dec. 18. Commissioners may then adopt the proposal, which also includes a hike in water and sewer rates.

Silveus and several dozen other sheriff’s office employees attended the meeting, upset at the news they may not get raises this year.

“You speak about the county’s time and money,” Silveus said. “What about ours? My time has a price, just like Forsyth County’s.’”

Sheriff’s chaplain Chris Holdorf encouraged commissioners to “recognize the most important assets we have ... the people that work for us in the community. I would ask that you go to bat for them.”

Commissioners David Richard and Linda Ledbetter seemed to think the budget could be altered to allow for raises.

“I think there’s enough tweaks in this budget ... to find the 3 percent merit increase for employees that are going to be here next year,” Richard said. “It’s going to take some hard work over the next couple of weeks, but it’s possible.”

Commissioners have not identified which departments could be affected by the proposed job cuts, though Richard suggested they look at both the communications and roads/bridges departments.

Some sheriff’s office employees urged commissioners to take consider pulling money from the county reserves, which make up about 25 percent of the general fund budget.

Richard said the reserves should be left alone.

“It’s not for this rainy day,” he said. “It’s for the rainy day and perfect storm that’s coming in 2010.”

Ledbetter disagreed.

“2010 may be a real bad year, but yo, let’s wait till 2010 [to deal with it],” she said.

The crowd applauded.

Neither Richard nor Ledbetter, whose terms expire in January, will be on the commission in 2010. Ledbetter chose not to seek a second term, while Richard’s re-election bid came up short.

E-mail Frank Reddy at