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Room to cut scarce
County officials review requests for next year
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Forsyth County News
Department heads assured Forsyth County’s finance committee Wednesday that their proposed 2011 budget expenses include only the essentials.

“I’ll make my cuts if I find them,” said Mary Kirkpatrick, tax assessor. “But I’m already running bare bones this year. I honestly don’t know where I can cut.”

With requested expenses exceeding revenues by $13.6 million, it appears the county may have to make some tough choices later in the year if the economic situation does not improve.

The requests total $92.6 million while revenues are projected at $79 million, about the same as in 2010, County Manager Doug Derrer said.

Expenses include paid holidays, a 5 percent 401K contribution and personal leave, benefits that were reduced or eliminated for 2010.

The county commission will decide whether to enact any of these cost-savings measures again later in the year, said Commissioner Patrick Bell, who also sits on the finance committee.

In a first-time formal process, the finance committee is meeting with each department to “give them a voice” in the budget cycle, Derrer said.

Added Deputy County Manager Tim Merritt: “It gives them a chance to showcase anything they want to.”

Departments under the county manager met with the committee last week and the remaining offices and departments came through this week.
The meetings concluded Friday.

The committee’s focus will sharpen next month when the county’s tax digest is expected to be complete.

The Forsyth County Board of Education has reviewed early projections, which show the digest is expected to fall about 4.14 percent.

On Wednesday, Juvenile Court, the library system, sheriff and tax assessor presented their needs.

Not counting the sheriff’s office, the three areas requested totals similar to their budgeted 2010 amounts.

Juvenile Court actually reduced its budget, eliciting thanks from the committee.

The court internally shuffled expenses to pay two employees the minimum for the work they are actually performing, said Rebecca Rusk, juvenile court manager.

“Anywhere we could cut we have cut so that we could make the difference up,” she said.

The court is dealing with a 35 to 40 percent increase in cases while allocating duties from vacant positions between current staff members, she said.

Juvenile Court Judge J. Russell Jackson said he needs to pay his employees for the duties they actually perform so he won’t lose them, but also needs to train new people.

The tax assessor’s office shed eight positions last year and has continued to operate in much the same fashion as Juvenile Court.

That came about despite an increase in property reassessment requests, something Kirkpatrick attributed to the economic downturn.

Kirkpatrick asked for a budget increase only to address a new unfunded state mandate that requires notices be sent to all property owners, rather than just those whose property has changed value.

She estimated the cost to the county would be more than $40,000, which could be reduced if property owners opt to receive electronic notification.

The library system has also received some difficult funding news from the state.

To make up for state budget shortfalls, the system has begun to rely more on volunteers, said Jon McDaniel, director.

The library recently asked for a $124,080 addition to the 2011 budget to pay for the operating costs of opening its new Hampton Park branch.
That money currently comes from a computer replacement fund.

“It’s not unreasonable what you’re asking for,” Bell said. “But the other side is, ‘Are we going to have it?’”