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Officials weigh more budget cuts
Hiring freeze remains in place, other options explored
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Forsyth County News

A countywide hiring freeze remains in place as commissioners and financial staff continue to brainstorm ways to offset a $6.9 million budget deficit, which could grow by $2.6 million.

Forsyth County's chief financial officer, Bill Thomas, told commissioners at Tuesday's work session that the county's August payment from the state for the local option sales tax came in 3.45 percent short of last year's payment.

"If we project conservatively," Thomas said, "by the end of the year there will be another $2.6 million shortfall. The sales tax receipts have been up and down the spectrum this year."

Talk of 12 percent across-the-board budget cuts were discussed at the Aug. 12 work session, but Thomas said Tuesday those would not be wise.

"We can't cut 12 percent unilaterally across departments," he said. "There are some departments it would wipe out completely."

Thomas presented other potential financial solutions, which included savings from the salaries of unfilled positions during the hiring freeze and cutting some materials, supplies and services from the general fund.

Other areas in which the county may look to trim spending include internal service funds, victims rights, Keep Forsyth County Beautiful and fleet maintenance.

No action was taken at Tuesday's work session. Commissioners could determine how to further address the deficit at Thursday's regularly scheduled meeting.

At the Aug. 12 work session, commissioners voted 3-2 to freeze hiring. The move was made to buy officials time to study recommendations from Thomas.

Commissioners Linda Ledbetter and Brian Tam opposed the measure. Ledbetter later voiced concern over $5 million in reserves that she said appeared to have been moved by administration without the commission's approval to help offset the deficit.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard later determined that officials had the authority to move that amount from county reserves, though they had not done so .

Commissioners were concerned that they had not voted on such a transfer, though Jarrard said they had approved the possibility when they passed the budget back in August 2007.

Ledbetter said she met with County Finance Director Cherrita Griswold Aug. 19 to sort through the issue.

Ledbetter was worried that transferring that much money would leave the county reserves shy of $25 million, a benchmark that helps determine the county's bond rating.

The bond rating has taken on new significance as the county prepares to issue $100 million in bonds for parks, recreation and green space. Voters approved the measure in February.

The county's current bond rating with two financial research companies is considered one notch below the best possible rating, according to Deputy County Attorney Doug Derrer.