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Getting down to budget details
Revenue, requests must balance for 2012
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Forsyth County News

 

Forsyth County's finance committee is beginning to get into the nitty-gritty of the preliminary 2012 budget.

Meetings with departments and offices over the past two weeks have slashed a couple million dollars, leaving the total expenditures in the general fund at about $93.8 million.

Expected revenue is about $90.5 million, up from the 2011 adopted budget of about $88.2 million. Additional requests for new items could add to the $3.3 million projected budget gap.

A balanced budget must be adopted by the end of 2011.

Commissioner Patrick Bell, a committee member, suggested the group begin Thursday morning's session by reviewing employee salaries and benefits, which make up about two-thirds of general fund expenses.

“With employees being the major cost of the budget, I think we need to identify those portions ... before we look at services,” Bell said.

For 2011, the commission cut some employee benefits with a clause that they would sunset with the year.

The 2012 preliminary budget includes restoration of those four unpaid holidays and 401K match.

Restoring pay for each holiday would come at a cost of about $204,000 per day, while restoring the 401K match from 3 to 5 percent would increase costs about $1.6 million.

The committee also looked at the numbers for a cost-of-living increase, for which a 1 percent raise for employees and their benefits would cost about $602,000.

That figure has not been added into the budget, nor has it been ruled out.

County contributions to employee health insurance plans were also examined.

Staff will determine the potential savings if employees were to pay their vision and dental premiums, said personnel service director Pat Carson, adding that she didn’t expect a huge difference.

The group also considered changing either short- or long-term disability coverage to be voluntary, though Carson said employees may not buy into that.

Additional requests for new services, employees or items not included in the projected budget totaled about $4 million during the first meetings with county offices and departments.

The committee started going line by line through those requests to determine what might be able to make it into the final budget.

“Everything that gets added has to mean cuts somewhere else or funded somewhere else,” said David Gruen, county finance director.

Most of those requests for additional expenses came from the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, which represents the largest portion of all departments and offices in the county’s general fund.

The sheriff ranked his top priority as hiring 24 new deputies, at an estimated cost of $2.2 million. The committee removed that request from consideration.

It did, however, recommend extending part-time court advocate positions to full time.

In enterprise and special funds, such as water and sewer, the committee scrutinized new item requests, looking for ways to make service more efficient and cut costs.

Requests from the parks and recreation department, which totaled about $264,000, drew some chatter from Bell and Chairman Brian Tam, the two commissioners on the committee.

The planned opening of two recreation centers would add about $265,000 to the 2012 budget.

Bell also pointed to the $157,500 cost to open seven green space parks, for which commissioners recently approved the designs.

The millage rate isn’t slated to be adopted until mid-July.

“One of my goals is to balance the budget without a millage rate increase,” Bell said.

Tam added, “I think we all share that goal.”

The committee also decided to hold a town hall meeting in late June so residents can quiz elected officials and senior staff members about the budget.