At a packed Newton County Board of Commissioner’s meeting Tuesday, Chairwoman Kathy Morgan and County Administrative Officer John Middleton proposed three options for balancing the roughly $5 million deficit for Fiscal Year 2009.
The first option was a mandatory eight-hour furlough per pay period for all county employees, which would save the county $889,847 for the remaining fiscal year. Coupled with the already proposed budget cuts brought forward by department heads prior to Saturday’s special called meeting, the reductions would total $4.73 million.
Option two was to implement a 10 percent salary reduction for all county employees saving the county $918,369 for a total of $4.76 million with the proposed departmental cuts.
"The logic behind that is to offset the difficulties involved with the furlough hours for those employees who work other shifts," Middleton said of employees in the public safety sector.
The last option was to immediately put into affect the $3.8 million of cuts made by department heads. By not moving forward with any county road project not already begun, this would allow managers and constitutional officers one more week to discuss any further reductions they could make to their budgets.
Morgan recommended the board approve option three and allow department heads one more week to narrow the budget gap without affecting personnel.
District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz made a motion to approve the option recommended by Morgan. The motion was seconded by District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing and passed 3-2 with Commissioners Earnest Simmons and J.C. Henderson voting no.
"I think it’s important that given the monumental task we have here that we take every opportunity to look under every rock and every stone to see if there’s anyway we can find any more money," Schulz said. "We have individuals that are employees that are single parents or head of households and I think that it’s important that we are very careful in taking this action."
She also indicated that she felt very strongly that any measure the board decided for the county’s employees should be applied to board members as well. She also said that any payroll adjustments needed to be enacted before the next pay period beginning March 2.
Commissioner Mort Ewing (Dist. 1) addressed the assembled crowd saying the financial picture the board received at a January work session was extremely grim as they had budgeted $55 million in revenue for 2009 and were now projecting $42 million in revenue for FY2010.
"With 65 percent of the budget made of personnel, it makes it extremely difficult to balance a budget without looking at services, without looking at people," Ewing said.
Both Commissioners J.C. Henderson and Tim Fleming pointed out that none of the proposed budget amendments would remedy projected shortfalls in FY2010.
"Come next budget cycle were going to have to, and I’m going to have to go a step further here and I know this is tough for employees to hear, but we’re going to have to cut some staff. There are departments right now who are not performing. There are departments right now that are not generating revenue that they had in the past, and those department were set up to pay for themselves and they are not paying for themselves right now," Fleming said. "And the citizens of this community, of Newton County, cannot be asked to continue to fund employees when we do not have the work for them to do. And we’ve got to start from the top down and look at every department."
Fleming went on to say he was willing to work for one more week to reduce departmental budgets further, but that the board would still be faced with tough decisions next week.
"I hope we can find the money we need," Fleming said, "but I want everybody to know that we could be faced with the same dilemma in a week and either way we go it’s not going to be pretty."