Blair Watson said he was "chilled to the bone" by the things he heard in a Forsyth County commission meeting earlier this week.
The 57-year-old retired engineer realizes times are tough. He watches television pundits and reads the headlines, but nothing "drove the issue home" like the words of Bill Thomas.
Thomas, the county's chief financial officer, broke troubling news to commissioners and county employees Tuesday afternoon. Because of an out-of-balance budget, he said, the commission may need to consider eliminating 23 staff positions.
Thomas said Wednesday the specific jobs affected could not be released.
Watson heard the county would be discussing the Fiscal Year 2009 budget Tuesday, so he ventured over to the county administration for an update on the situation.
Watson said he was surprised, and "not in a good way."
Also at the meeting Tuesday afternoon were about a dozen employees of the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office. They were not happy to hear that a balanced budget could mean no merit or cost of living increases for county employees.
Cpl. Chris Shelton suggested the commission "reach into the reserves and give us something."
Thomas responded that the nearly 25 percent of the general fund budget, or about $32 million, set aside as reserves is "built up for cushioning for unexpected decline of revenues during the fiscal year when you have nothing else to go to."
Thomas told commissioners that revenues for the Fiscal Year 2009 budget are projected at about $86.7 million, which is down from the 2008 estimate of $103.7 million. That reflects a shortfall of 16.4 percent.
"This financial crisis is deep," Thomas said. "It's going to have a long-term effect on the economy, and we're not going to see it over with this time next year. And I believe 2010 is probably going to be worse."
County indigent defense administrator Connie Brooker told commissioners she was "thankful to have a job."
"Everybody needs to realize it's going to get worse," she said. "We've got to face reality."
A longtime county employee, Brooker said she's gone as long as five years without a raise.
"Y'all are asking us to go one year, maybe two?" she said. "As an employee, I don't think that's too much to ask."
Commissioners plan to hold public hearings Dec. 4 and 18 to discuss changes to the budget, which also include a hike in water and sewer rates.
Following the second public hearing, they may vote to adopt the amended budget.
"The commissioners have got to do what they've got to do. I do hope this thing won't get any worse," Watson said. "I don't work for the county, but I feel bad for the people that do. This is scary times."
Chairman Charles Laughinghouse said changes to the budget are a must.
"We must have a balanced budget," he said.
"[Employees] may walk out of this with less money in their paycheck," he said, "but at least they have a paycheck."