Forsyth County’s finance committee met with heads of offices and courts this week in its first round of reviewing requests for the 2013 budget.
The committee plans to compile the information from the meetings and present the preliminary budget to the county commission on June 12, said David Gruen, finance department director.
The county’s overall general fund budget won’t be determined until the tax digest is complete in the next couple of weeks, Gruen said.
“There’s a lot in flux right now that we’re adjusting,” he said. “But so far, the past few weeks, the process is working well. Everyone got to come in and talk about their budgets.
“The challenge will be when we put together all the revenues, including the tax digest, and all the various requests plus the cost of the third judgeship. The challenge is going to be to get that general fund budget balanced.”
A third superior court judge for the Bell-Forsyth Circuit was approved by the state in April.
Officials agree that the court’s backlog of cases in the system merits adding another judge and have noted that the county nearly qualifies for a fourth.
The third judge, expected to start Jan. 1, could add more than $1 million in expenses to the county’s 2013 budget, including salaries and benefits, operating expenses and the various associated positions that will be hired.
Gruen said $230,000 has been budgeted for the capital expenses, most of which would cover the cost of housing a courtroom for the judge. That space has not been determined.
The new courthouse, which voters approved in the recent 1-cent sales tax referendum, will not be built by the time the judge starts.
The costs associated with the new judge will impact the budgets for Superior Court, court administration, the district attorney’s office, pretrial services and the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.
Though not yet included in the sheriff’s budget for 2013, two deputies and a sergeant could be hired in conjunction with the new courtroom.
The bottom line for Sheriff Ted Paxton’s 2013 budget, presented Friday, totaled about $36.8 million, down from about $37.5 million budgeted this year.
Gruen said three internal service funds, which charge the office for services provided by other county departments, will no longer be reflected in individual budgets.
Those include: administration, geographical information services and public facilities.
For the sheriff’s office, the $480,000 contract for the animal shelter will also be removed to the general fund budget.
The committee reviewed some increases in line items for the sheriff’s office, including an estimated $2.6 million for inmate housing, compared to about $2.3 million actually spent in 2011.
“It’s a shot in the dark,” Paxton said. “You try your best to project it.”
While the third judge could get inmates awaiting trial through the system quicker, Paxton said a change in the law could elevate the number.
The state legislature raised the amount to qualify theft as a felony from $500 to $1,500 in its last session, he said.
The increase could cause more convictions for misdemeanors, which means more of those inmates could remain in the county’s jail.
Paxton also asked to replace 20 vehicles that he said fleet maintenance identified as costing more in repairs than their value.
Several computers, in-car video cameras and a fingerprint machines are also slated for replacement this year, he said.
The finance committee will meet again on June 1 to review requests from all offices and departments after receiving information on questions from the first sessions.