Newton County employees are safe from firings, furloughs and pay cuts until at least June 30. Five county departments made last-minute, non-personnel cuts totaling more than $1.1 million, to erase fully the previous $5 million budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2009.
The room full of county employees and the Board of Commissioners were excited and relieved by the successful budget cuts announced and approved at a special called meeting Wednesday.
"We did it," District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing said, while congratulating District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schultz after the meeting. "We all won."
The extra week of budget cutting, voted upon by the BOC on Feb. 17, proved to be crucial in allowing departments to cut any remaining non-essential services. County Administrative Officer John Middleton presented the new cuts at Wednesday's budget session and the BOC unanimously voted to approve the cuts. District 2 Commissioner Earnest Simmons did not arrive at the meeting until after the vote.
The biggest cut came from the sheriff's office, which saved more than $400,000 by cancelling an order of new police cars and shifting around existing funds. Sheriff Ezell Brown made sure to say that the cuts would not lessen the public's safety.
The cuts leave the county with only $100,000 in its reserve contingency for the rest of FY 2009, County Chairmen Kathy Morgan said. Most departments have less than a $1,000 in reserve, so any large emergencies could cause problems.
The budget cuts also don’t solve the expected budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2010, District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson said. He quoted a projected 2010 budget of around $42 million, but Middleton said it was too early to name an accurate projection. Middleton did mention at the meeting that the budget could be as high as $48 million.
"(The cuts) are great for employees for the next 3 months," Henderson said. "But we don’t know about the future. It needs to be a team effort."
Sheriff’s Deputy David Altwies was relieved, but remained nervous.
"It's temporary relief," Altweis said. "I'll take the relief for now, but you got to worry about the future. I'm not planning on dying anytime soon."
In other news from Wednesday night's commission meeting:
County Chairmen Kathy Morgan announced that Newton County will receive the Homestead Tax Relief Grant from the state next week. The grant will provide the county with around $1,800,000.