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Posted: February 15, 2009 12:30 a.m.

Salary cuts loom for county personnel

Board to decide on specific measure Tues.

At a special called meeting Saturday, members of the Newton County Board of Commissioners concluded that, in light of an anticipated $5 to $5.5 million budget shortfall, payroll adjustments would have to be made in order to make up the deficit.

"This is very painful," said District 5 Commissioner Tim Fleming, "but these are hard times we're in."

Prior to the meeting the board asked all county department heads to present ways in which they could reduce expenses for the four months remaining in this budget cycle.

Through a variety of measures such as leaving positions vacant, not attending non-required training, agreeing to not purchase new equipment or to hire outside laborers or consultants, department heads were able to eliminate approximately $3.1 million from their combined budgets - leaving the board looking for ways to come up with roughly $2 million.

Despite an agreement among members to place all scheduled road improvements that have not been started on hold until July - adding about $500,000 to the budget - as well as not yet knowing how much the sheriff's department had cut from its budget, members were left to discover other avenues of cutting expenses.

"We just couldn't come up with the last million dollars," said Chairman Kathy Morgan.

The board will decide at its Tuesday night meeting whether to implement a percentage pay decrease for all of the roughly 650 county employees (barring constitutional officers, whose salaries are based on a formula set by the state) or whether to mandate furlough days. The board also discussed looking for volunteers to work a 32-hour work week before making their final decision.

County administrative Officer John Middleton warned that furlough days present more of a challenge because some employees, especially those in public safety departments, do not work a traditional eight-hour day, 40-hour week schedule. A police officer working two 12-hour days then a day off schedule would be docked a greater percentage of his pay than a receptionist working five eight-hour days a week if furloughs were put into place.

"We're going to have to make some tough decisions," said District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson, "but we're going to have to make them."

District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz said that if the board decided to apply universal salary decreases, then the six members of the BOC should also apply the same measure to their own salaries.

District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing agreed saying, "We've got to lead by example."


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