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County sheds 26 jobs
Pay raises also cut from '09 budget
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Forsyth County News

Pat Carson's job was tough Friday.

The Forsyth County personnel services director broke the news to 26 staff members who are losing their jobs as part of 2009 budget cuts approved Thursday night.

"It was a long day," said Carson, who was joined by other county officials in the meetings.

Other cuts the commission made involved a 5 percent across-the-board budget reduction for all departments, including fire and safety, which could save the county $2.6 million.

Job cuts could save about $1.22 million, according to Chief Financial Officer Bill Thomas.

The county has about 1,300 employees. Of the jobs eliminated, 21 came from planning and development, three from engineering and two from code enforcement.

Commissioner Linda Ledbetter wanted to wait until Dec. 30 to vote on the matter. She and Commissioner Brian Tam opposed adopting the budget Thursday.

Commissioner David Richard said the numbers would "go down further" if the county waited that long.

"Every time we look at this budget, the numbers keep getting worse," he said.

The $84.1 million budget is down from last week's estimated $91 million. The 2008 original budget was $103.7 million.

Ledbetter said she wouldn't adopt a budget that did not allow for employee raises in 2009.

"I can't see not giving people at least a 1 percent raise," she said.

The 2009 budget does not allow for cost-of-living or merit raises, which could save the county $2.45 million and $1.7 million each.

Richard said he initially thought the board "could find some way to find cuts in this budget to fund cost-of-living or merit raises, but ... the money isn't there to give people the raises.

"It's a difficult thing to tell 26 people they're not going to have a job," Richard continued. "It's even more difficult to tell them that and give everybody else who still has a job after that a raise."

The planning and development department will shed about one third of its staff, including 10 inspectors, eight administrative personnel and three planners.

Two code enforcement officers will be out of work. Those who lost jobs in engineering include one traffic control tech and two field workers.

Jan. 2 is the last day for these employees, who will not receive any severance pay. Their health care benefits run through Jan. 31, Carson said. Those affected will be eligible for unemployment and placed on a roster to be notified of any future job openings within the county.

"They will be provided primary consideration," Carson said.

Department heads could not be reached for comment.

Richard said Friday the planning department got hit the hardest because of "the slowdown in the building market right now."

"If you don't have homes being built, you don't need as many inspectors," he said. "The work just wasn't there for them."

Richard also said that a survey last month by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government revealed the specific jobs that were expendable.

A drop in sales revenues is expected over the last three months of 2008, according to Thomas. Other revenues not expected to meet previous forecasts include licenses and permit fees, investment income, local insurance premium tax and alcohol excise tax.

The general fund balance is expected to be about $23.8 million by Dec. 31. That's after a $3 million drop in revenues, $2.5 million payment to the city of Cumming for infrastructure improvements and $4.3 million to the state Department of Transportation for McGinnis Ferry right of way.

The county's financial policy requires that 25 percent of the budget remain for reserves. The $23.8 million the county could start the year with will equal about 28 percent of the proposed 2009 budget.

The county will also look at a potential hike for water and sewer rates at the first meeting in January.