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Gap in budget $13.3 million
Officials planning ahead for 2011
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Forsyth County News
In what is becoming a familiar scenario for Forsyth County officials, the county’s preliminary 2011 budget presentation Tuesday indicated a shortfall of more than $13.3 million.

Revenues are projected to rise slightly from the current year, from $79 million to about $80.3 million, based on small increases in income from taxes, fines, licenses and permits.

However, expenditures for the general fund have been estimated at $93.6 million, based on requests from county offices and departments.

“It should be anticipated that not everything requested is going to be passed on,” Commissioner Jim Harrell said.

Other large funds separate from the county’s general operating fund, including fire and water and sewer, have also sought increases in expenditures from 2010.

“It’s only going to get harder in figuring out what to do with that $13 million deficit,” Chairman Charles Laughinghouse said. “It comes down to a tough decision ... When your revenue doesn’t match expenses, you either raise revenue or cut expenses.”

Current figures do not include funding cuts set to elapse this year, including a 2 percent 401K reduction, seven unpaid holidays and no sellback of personal leave.

Extending those into the 2011 budget would lower expenses by about $3.1 million in the county’s general fund, officials said.

Commissioner Patrick Bell said he hopes the county will be able to keep paid holidays this year, particularly since staff members haven’t seen any merit increase or cost of living adjustments in three years.

“I feel we can’t use that this year to try to meet the budget,” Bell said.

To date, County Manager Doug Derrer said, officials have been looking at operating expenses separate from salaries and benefits for a more clear picture of expenses.

The five-member commission agreed that the county will have a better picture of how to close the revenue and expenditures gap once the required annual audit is completed.

Overall, 10 positions have been preliminarily added into the 2011 budget.

Six of those are for a new senior center at the former site of Lakeland Community Church on Sharon Road, which the county bought with 1-cent
sales tax funding, and four to operate Fowler Park, which is expected to open in January.

Just two vacant positions have been removed, one from personnel services and one from the planning department.

The 2011 budget does not need to be adopted until the end of this year, but the millage rate must be set by the end of July.

Upcoming hearings will help the board decide what to do about property taxes.

Laughinghouse described the balance between taxes and services as a “double-edged sword,” noting people want low taxes and good services.

Bell said he’s not opposed to funding services as long as the costs are appropriate.

“I think the taxpayers are willing to pay for the high quality services they receive,” he said.

Forsyth has maintained a property tax rate of 3.834 mills since 2006, which county figures show equates to about $1,914 in taxes on a $200,000 home.

To meet the requested budget expenditures, Derrer said the county would need to raise the rate to 5.429 mills, which would be an increase of $118.40 per year on the same home.

The millage rate requires three public hearings, the first two of which are set for 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. July 15.