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Budget worries voiced
County workers air displeasure
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Forsyth County News
Unhappy with Forsyth County government’s money management practices, employees made the most noise about the proposed 2010 budget.

But residents, former commissioners and others also voiced their concerns during a public hearing Thursday night.

The proposed budget shows funding cuts for most county departments, though many service costs have increased.

Employees of various county departments opposed the proposed seven unpaid holidays and additional five furlough days, which would save $1.7 million. They also are not in favor of reductions to the county’s 401K match.

The commission is expected to finalize the spending plan at its meeting Dec. 17.

Dawn Childress, county superior and state courts administrator, drew thunderous applause from the crowd.

Though her voice cracked with emotion as she spoke, she said the courts feel they can’t serve justice if further cuts are made.

“The employees feel that ... this board is once again balancing the budget entirely on the backs of the 1,100 [county employees],” Childress said.

The reaction from the audience gave the impression that the department isn’t alone in its woes.

The commission is faced with the task of creating a budget in a year when revenues are not only down but in some cases unpredictable, such as sales tax funding.

However, previous underfunding of programs and required health care cost increases for employees has resulted in an extra $11.8 million in the 2010 budget.

Pension, workers’ compensation and information technology are examples of previously underfunded internal service charges, which have been increased in next year’s budget.

No employee positions are being cut in the proposed budget, but vacancies will be left open.

In October, the county let go 30 employees and eliminated 24 unfilled, vacant positions. The moves were made to offset the 2009 budget deficit of $6.2 million and aid projected 2010 figures.

Revenues for 2010 are projected to total about $77.9 million. The proposed budget, however, weighs in at about $80.7 million, which leaves a deficit of about $2.8 million.

Commissioners have been considering options to balance the budget, which has already been slashed by more than $10 million from what county departments requested.

Some suggested Thursday that the commission open up discussion to a group of employees for ideas and better understanding of the needs of each department.

Forsyth County Solicitor General Leslie Abernathy felt the proposed funding doesn’t match what’s needed or reflected in her department.

As an example of unclear spending, she cited large increases in funds for her department that had no new services. She said money and services were moved around in the budget without any explanation.

“[The budget] is not clear to us as elected officials. It is not clear to our employees. It is not clear to us as taxpayers,” she said. “I think at least the taxpayers deserve to know where the money’s coming from and where it’s going to.”

After hearing from several county employees and a few residents, the five-member commission addressed some of the matters.

Commissioner Patrick Bell vowed to correct spending on needs and not wants. He also cited the county’s tendency to micromanage businesses as a problem for recruiting and generating profits in the community.

Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse personally welcomed input from anyone.

“It is totally unfair to ask the 1,200 employees of our county to shoulder the entire burden of our budget problem,” he said.

To that, an audience member cried out, “Do something!”

Laughinghouse added that it was too late to raise property taxes for this budget, but he believed the board could severely cut expenses in some areas.

The commission rejected a measure to raise property taxes in July after several residents expressed opposition at public hearings.

Former Commissioner David Richard suggested that since the commission didn’t “raise its prices” that it should “bite the bullet now,” and cut employees in positions that do not offer state or federally mandated services.

Balancing the budget by moving money from the county’s reserves is another option.