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Finance officials hear about courts, elections
Next session is Thursday
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Forsyth County News

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The finance committee is scheduled to meet at 8 a.m. Thursday at the Forsyth County Administration Building in downtown Cumming.

Forsyth County's finance committee has wrapped up budget talks with elected officials.

In an effort to close a gap that could reach $10 million in the proposed 2012 budget, the committee last week asked the officials and department heads, with whom they had previously met, to trim costs wherever possible.

County revenue for next year is estimated at $90 million, yet general fund requests total $95 million to $96 million. Additional requests for new items could raise that difference by about $4 million.

Forsyth County Manager Doug Derrer has said the budget proposal includes the restoration of four paid holidays for employees, bringing the total to 10, as well as the return of a 401K allotment of 5 percent.

Derrer, who is also on the committee, said commissioners will consider cost-of-living and merit increases, though they are not included in the proposed plan.

The finance committee's next meeting is set for Thursday.

The following offices and departments were among those making presentations last week.

Solicitor’s Office

Solicitor General Leslie Abernathy asked for two new items that would add $74,296 to her proposed 2012 budget of about $1.59 million.

The draft, without the new items, shows an increase of about 3.25 percent over her 2011 budget of about $1.54 million.

Abernathy told the committee she is asking to convert a contract employee to a full-time employee position in an effort to ensure case information collected by the sheriff’s office is transferred to the court computer system.

The change would cost an additional $44,802, but could save the county $20,151.

Abernathy also requested a 5 percent pay increase for all of her employees, which would add $49,645. She said she would also like to promote an assistant solicitor to senior assistant solicitor with a pay increase from $50,334 a year to $60,000.

Abernathy said she wants to promote the employee, who has taken on additional responsibilities, to the same level as another supervising attorney in the office.

Court Administration and Juvenile Court

Dawn Childress, Bell-Forsyth Judicial Circuit Court administrator, spoke with the committee on behalf of court administration, pre-trial services and Superior, State, Drug and DUI courts.

She said Superior Court is expected to sequester a jury for at least four weeks in July for a death penalty case, and she may have to ask the commission for additional funding for the 2011 budget.

“We’re probably going to have about 18 jurors and they have to be paid every day for every day they show up,” she said.

Superior Court’s proposed budget for 2012 is $709,400, which is an increase of about 6.25 percent over this year’s budget of $667,700.

Forsyth County Juvenile Court’s proposed budget for 2012 could rise about 2 percent from the 2011 amount of $1,195,100 to $1,219,000.

Judge Russell Jackson said he will review the draft, particularly the amount spent in court reporter fees, to see what can be cut. He also said he’d like to see employee benefits restored.

Voter Registration & Elections

In a department dictated by elections, 2012 will no doubt be a busier and and costlier year.

A presidential preference primary, general primary, general election and two likely runoffs could bring the elections total to five, supervisor Barbara Luth said.

The department is seeking about $2.4 million to conduct those elections and keep the department running, up from about $800,000 allotted in the budget for 2011, which featured only the possibility of special elections.

“This is going to be a major election year that we’ve got coming up,” said Luth, recalling how the crowds for the 2008 presidential election required a “full crew” of poll workers.

Part-time salaries for poll workers and unfunded election mandates, including ballot printing by district and required mailings due to the upcoming redistricting, are some primary sources of the projected budget increase.

The county may also ask some of its employees to volunteer working the polls to save costs, as it did in 2010.

The department also anticipates savings by cutting down on poll locations from 33 precincts to 27, which could be further reduced to 25.

Tax Assessor

Despite looking for areas to cut, the finance committee allocated more money to the Tax Assessor’s budget, thanks to a new law requiring annual assessment notices go out to all property owners.

The notices were previously sent only to those whose property values had changed.

“Legal fees, printing and postage, those are definitely unfunded mandates,” said Mary Kirkpatrick, chief appraiser. “The places that did go up are places I’ve had to move money ... to cover some of the costs that we’ve incurred because of these new laws.”

In addition to the mailing costs, the department also has needed to fund extra legal costs due to an uptick in homeowners appealing their property assessments, Kirkpatrick said.

The assessor’s budget, which started at about $2.45 million, stands at $2.52 million because of the increases.

“I am running solely on what I need to survive,” she said. “I tried to cut where I could.”

Staff Writers Alyssa LaRenzie and Jennifer Sami contributed to this report.