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Hiring freeze buys time to explore budget cuts
County's financial woes blamed on slow economy, development
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County commissioners voted 3-2 on Tuesday to freeze hiring until Aug. 21.

The move will give officials time to study a recommendation that all departments trim their budgets by 12 percent.

Approval of the hiring freeze came after commissioners reviewed the midyear budget report for fiscal year 2008, which showed a shortfall of $6.9 million.

Chief Financial Officer Bill Thomas suggested the 12 percent across-the-board cuts to eliminate the financial gap, which officials blamed on a struggling economy and lack of development.

The hiring freeze is not expected to affect many job openings, though the exact number of vacancies in county government was not immediately available.

According to Thomas, a $6.7 million budget deficit has risen to $6.9 million since April.

"The revenue deficit is related directly to the slow of the economy and the decline of development," he said.

Thomas stressed the situation was dire and urged commissioners to take some form of action.

"If you don't want to act on anything else today at least freeze hiring, so we can stop that," he said. "If we stop that,

it will give us time to come back and figure out how we're going to do this."

The hiring freeze is in effect until Aug. 21, when the commission's next meeting is scheduled.

At that time, the board may decide whether the across-the board budget cuts are the cure or if they should seek other options, which could include suspending all major maintenance and nonessential capital projects.

"We're all going to have to tighten our belts," said Chairman Charles Laughinghouse. "In two weeks, maybe we'll have some more information, and at that time we'll decide what the next course of action is."

County Attorney Ken Jarrard said whatever budgetary action the board takes must be fair.

"If we're going to do this, it cannot be arbitrary," he said. "It should be reasonably tailored to deal with the situation at hand. In other words, you can't cut more than you need."

Jarrard said cutting the budget in midyear could raise some eyebrows, but maintaining a balanced budget should trump any objections.

"You have an obligation to maintain a balanced budget," he said. "You have the fair weight of authority to do this now."