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Future of Emergency Services Department in question
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The county is looking at possibly disbanding the Emergency Services Department, which was formed a year ago to house the fire division, E911, and animal control, and eliminating Director John McNeil's position as part of budget saving measures.

When asked about the possibility, Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Oden said "There's options on the table. There's no real decision made."

Of McNeil, Oden said "At the will of the chairman, he's still an employee."

McNeil had informed department personnel in a memo Tuesday afternoon.

Oden spoke with fire personnel Wednesday morning and has additional meetings Wednesday and Thursday to "have a discussion with staff about what options are on the table." Two reporters were not allowed to attend the meeting. Commissioner JaNice Van Ness was asked to leave as well, to avoid a quorum at a non-public meeting.

Van Ness said she had not been informed of the changes as of Tuesday evening.

"We have two positions we did talk about eliminating," one of which was within the Emergency Services Department, she said, "but not disbanding the whole department without us knowing about it. I don't think it's necessarily a bad idea to disband it, just for cost savings. But to not let us have any idea about it is just wrong."

She said she found out from a Rockdale News breaking news alert on a mobile phone at the South Rockdale Civic Association candidates' forum on Tuesday evening. "I think it's a crying shame I have had to come here to find out," she said, after the forum.

On Wednesday morning, Commissioner Oz Nesbitt said "I don't know if they're going to release this man, or when it's going to happen. But I'm not surprised. I was the one that put him on the list to be eliminated." He added, "I think it would be in order and respect that the commissioners be made aware of it prior to anybody outside."

Oden pointed out, "Many of these options are their options. It's their options. It's ludicrous for someone to say they don't know what's going on."

Nesbitt had submitted a list of about 30 full time and part-time positions to be cut, for a savings of about $650,000 in early May and had submitted other proposed cuts and changes in mid-May, including cutting fire positions hired to staff the new fire station No. 9 and offering a retirement package incentive.

Chief of Staff Greg Pridgeon said of the 30 positions being discussed during budget cut talks, about 12 of those were vacant positions.

"As we evaluate the options throughout the enterprise, with all the positions that may be defunded, this is primarily a budget issue, not a performance issue. This is not an issue that relates exclusively to who does what. This is a budget issue," said Pridgeon.

Oden said any final decisions would be announced after June 22 and after the Tax Commissioner came back with revised tax revenue projections.

The county is looking at a worst case scenario of an estimated projected budget deficit of about $4 million total, based on a lower than estimated drop of about 8 percent in property tax revenues.

Previously, the county had projected a tax digest drop of about 3 percent. The majority of this year's 31,000 property assessments decreased in value.

The county passed a $55.4 million general appropriations budget last year, which would have created a deficit of about $2 million and would require some sort of millage rate increase, previously estimated between .66 mil and 1 mil.