CUMMING — Forsyth County’s finance committee has been meeting with department heads to discuss their requests for the 2015 budget.
To date, officials have reviewed the proposed budgets for Probate and Juvenile courts, the coroner’s and sheriff’s offices and the library system.
Similar meetings with the local government’s other departments are scheduled through the remainder of this week and into next, culminating Tuesday with the tax commissioner’s office.
The committee took a break Tuesday and resumed meetings Wednesday with State and Superior courts, as well as pre-trial services, administration and both DUI and Drug courts.
County Manager Doug Derrer said all departments and offices are preparing and presenting budget requests to the committee.
“We are currently in the development phase of the preliminary budget,” he said. “Preparation, presentation and approval of the budget is a lengthy process.
“In the following weeks, the finance committee will meet on several occasions to review and discuss budget requests in greater detail.”
So far, the sheriff’s budget has been the largest reviewed by the committee, coming in at about $37.6 million.
If approved, the spending plan would reflect an increase of about $3 million from 2014, despite adding 87 new positions to staff the new — and much larger — jail and courthouse, which are being built across from each other in downtown Cumming.
“Even with the new jail and courthouse, it’s still $1 million less than the 2012 budget,” said Sheriff’s Maj. Rick Doyle after the meeting.
The 2012 budget was about $38.4 million and dropped to about $31.9 million in 2013 after Sheriff Duane Piper took over, agency officials said.
There was an increase this year to about $34.8 million with a rise in detention center costs, which are projected to rise again, from $9.3 million to $17.3 million.
Jamie Payne, assistant director of finance, said there are no new services in the budget.
“We’re still doing the same services,” she said.
There remains a need to replace patrol cars and computers currently using Windows XP, which is no longer being supported by Microsoft, officials said.
About 12 of the 87 new positions will be in the courthouse, with the remaining 75 at the jail. The ratio would be about three staff members for every one prisoner, which seemed to disappoint Commissioner Cindy Mills.
She said the “state-of-the-art” jail was supposed to use technology to reduce the staffing needs, but “now it seems like it was coming back to needing more.”
During the meeting, Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Giordano said it was recommended the new positions would be added to accommodate up to 350 prisoners, while the jail has reached a population of 300 four times since January 2013.
Doyle said the department “won’t hire more than necessary.”
“As this process unfolds and timelines get nailed down closer to the opening date, we’re watching that closely,” he said. “We’ll staff according to what we need. We don’t want to add people just to add people.”
Doyle also said staff members have been cross-trained in different departments to handle what he said is a “variable that’s very unpredictable.”
“If we need to move people from other divisions and departments — whether it be long term or short term, into detention or courts or into other areas seeing fluctuation — we’re making it so we have that ability,” he said.