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Job cuts center on one office
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Forsyth County News

Planning and development staff could feel the brunt of Forsyth County's budget cuts.

Twenty-one of the 23 county positions that commissioners have discussed eliminating could come from the 64-person department.

Planning Director Jeff Chance voiced concern over the prospect at Tuesday's commission work session as talks continued on how best to balance a 2009 budget with a 16.9 percent shortfall.

Chance asked commissioners what "level of service" the board expected from a department with one third less the manpower.

"In the discussions with the [chief financial officer] and county manager, they've been all about numbers, and it's hard to look past that," Chance said. "The numbers do paint a picture ... but I would like to hear from this board what expectations you might have."

The commission did not take any action on the matter Tuesday. Commissioner Brian Tam did say, however, that he would not want cuts at the planning department to negatively affect commercial development.

The planning and development department consists of several divisions: current planning, long range planning, permitting, building inspections and business license. All are involved with planning and growth of development in the county.

In the end, though, all county departments could feel the pain of an out-of-balance budget.

Chief Financial Officer Bill Thomas has discussed with commissioners the possibility of doing away with cost-of-living or merit raises for 2009.

The idea met with much opposition at last Thursday's first public hearing on the matter.

A second hearing is scheduled for Dec. 18. At that time, commissioners will also decide whether to adopt changes to the budget.

Thomas presented an update of the 2008 budget Tuesday. According to Thomas, a drop in revenues has put the county reserves out $3 million.

Other amounts taken from the reserves could include the $2.5 million the county must pay Cumming by Dec. 31 for city priority infrastructure projects.

According to Chairman Charles Laughinghouse, there is also $4.3 million slated to go to the state Department of Transportation for McGinnis Ferry Road right of way.

These amounts could bring the $33 million in county's reserves down to about $23 million.

Some sheriff's deputies have suggested to the commission that the reserve money be used toward cost of living or merit increases.

According to Thomas, merit increases for employees would cost $1.7 million and cost of living increases could cost $2.45 million.

About $1.1 million would be saved from the elimination of 23 jobs, Thomas said.

Commissioner Linda Ledbetter did not like the idea of eliminating staff positions.

"I don't see firing 23 people right before Christmas," she said, adding that sheriff's deputies would relocate to other counties seeking better pay.

Commissioner David Richard said he "disagreed with the basic premise."

"It's not as if other law enforcement positions will be opening up elsewhere," he said. "This is a national economy meltdown. It's a problem from state to state.

"Those people aren't going to be leaving their positions. There won't be any other positions open."

To combat mounting financial woes, the board asked nonprofits to give presentations at Tuesday's meeting.

Representatives from Department of Family and Children Services, Jessie's House, the Forsyth County Child Advocacy Center, Bald Ridge Lodge, Court Appointed Special Advocate and Family Haven fielded questions from the board.

The county currently spends $471,000 on nonprofits per year.

Commissoners plan to discuss tweaking that amount at their Dec. 16 work session.