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Posted: June 11, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Moving work in house could save 21 county jobs

The county could save as many as 20 jobs, by cancelling its service contract for the county’s recycling centers and reallocating existing employees to take over that work.

In a budget work session Tuesday night, county commissioners discussed various ways to cut expenses and increase revenues. Handling recycling center service in house would offer the largest savings at $242,352.

County employees, who would otherwise be cut, would have the option of working at the recycling center. Their hourly wages would be reduced to $9 per hour, but they would get to keep the county’s benefit package.

The cost of the current contract with Junior Hilliard General Services is $457,200, and the cost to hire 20 county employees at $9 per hour would actually be greater at $558,048. But the county could potentially save $343,200 by avoiding paying unemployment to those employees for 12 months. It could also save an additional $343,200 in unemployment next year, if those employees remained out of work or otherwise eligible for up to 24 months.

In addition, after the meeting County Chairman Kathy Morgan said the county would be able to keep the time and training it had invested in these employees over the years. When the budget improved and those employees' original jobs became available again, they could be moved back.

• Another idea which could bring in around $200,000 would be to require animal owners to get licenses for their pets, Morgan said. Animal Control Director Teri Key-Hoosen proposed the fees, not only as a way to raise revenue and help cover costs for her department, but also as a way to ensure that pets have their rabies shots. Additional rabies shots would also bring in revenue.

• The county is also considering cancelling its contract for lawn service and moving that in-house as well. One employee could be reallocated to take over this service.

The current contract with Durden's Lawn Care is for $115,720. By using a county employee to do the work the county could save up to $70,080, including the potential savings from avoiding paying unemployment to a laid off worker.

Commissioner Earnest Simmons asked why prison inmate crews could not be used to do the work, but Administrative Assistant John Middleton said detention center officials simply could not guarantee that enough qualified inmates would be available at all times. He said the county is working hard just to keep its two to three existing prison detail crews staffed. However, occasional inmate help could be available.

In addition, there is a possibility that people who need to complete community service could be occasionally used to take care of the lawn, which could lead to additional savings. Fleming said if the landfill employees took care of their own lawn areas, that could lead to even greater savings for the county.

Commissioner J.C. Henderson expressed concern about the liability if a prison inmate or community service individual was injured while performing lawn care. He also said having the landfill employees take care of their lawn could distract them from their original responsibilities.

Durden's Lawn Care has proposed a new contract for just over $100,000 according to Commissioner Tim Fleming, but even with that reduction, in-house work would still be less expensive.

• The Board of Commissioners also discussed the possibility of taking more money out of the fund balance, which currently sits at 15 percent of the total budget, or $7.2 million. Morgan said she would not advise going below that because the fund balance is needed to pay for much of the county's operating expenses from July through September, until the first installment of property taxes comes in.

Lowering the county fund balance could also lower the county's AAA credit rating, which could increase insurance and loan interest rates.

• Simmons asked about the possibility of charging for the use of the parking deck across from the Newton County Administration Building. Morgan said the county could look into it, but she believed that most users were either county employees, residents on county business or church officials, who have an agreement to use the deck.

• At one point District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson engaged in a raised-voice discussion with Morgan, accusing the county of financial shortsightedness and not meeting the needs of his district.

He said jobs were the most important thing to his constituents and in an effort to save every county job he would support raising the millage rate to 12, which would bring in an additional $5 million dollars and maintain the current level of services. It was a reversal of course for Henderson, who previously said he did not want to raise taxes. He invited the other commissioners to follow his lead in supporting a 12 millage rate.

At this point, commissioners Mort Ewing and Tim Fleming appear to be leaning toward keeping the 9.73, while Commissioner Nancy Schulz has said she would vote for the rollback rate. Simmons told The News that he is still considering all of his options.

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