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County facing $8.6M shortfall
Revenue projected to be much lower than expenditures in new budget

COVINGTON - County commissioners were recently notified that they are facing a nearly $8.6 million shortfall for the fiscal year 2010 budget.

Requests from constitutional officers and department heads for the upcoming budget cycle total $56,379,030, while revenue projections are $47,786,627.

Commissioners will spend the next month or so grappling with how to slash the budget to make up the difference.

"That's the largest shortfall I've had to deal with; this is the ninth budget that I've worked on as a commissioner," said District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing.

Commissioners met Thursday afternoon and Saturday to hear department heads' budget requests. Another meeting will take place at 6 p.m. Monday, April 13, in the Newton County Historic Courthouse.

Ewing said the board will have five more work sessions, running into mid-May, to determine how to balance the budget.

"We are merely accepting information right now and once we get through hearing everybody, then the board will determine what we need to do," he said. "We really haven't had a discussion on how to deal with this."

There have been no discussions on raising taxes as of yet, Ewing said.

According to Finance Director Marcia Allen, the revenue projections are still premature, as the tax digest has not been completed. Revenues could go up or down, she said.

The budget goes into effect July 1 and runs through June 30, 2010. Along with the proposed millage rate, it will be advertised and be subject to public hearings before approval.

Commissioners and department heads had barely had time to recover from weeks of working to trim more than $5 million from the current budget when they were hit with the latest bad news last week. Earlier this year, county department heads were asked to cut their budgets this year by up to 20 percent. Their efforts, along with suggestions from employees, spared salary reductions and furloughs for staff.

But commissioners warned that those options wouldn't be off the table this go-round.

"I wish I could say the crisis is over, but we don't know what the future is," Chairman Kathy Morgan told employees in February. "But I know each of you is up to the task and the challenge."

In lieu of a salary reduction or furlough, employees have suggested reducing training and travel, canceling staff picnics and Christmas dinner, reducing cell phone usage, continuing to leave open positions unfilled and implementing an unpaid holiday.

Administrative Officer John Middleton said their suggestions will be revisited during this budget cycle. An internal Web site will allow employees to continue to share cost-saving ideas as commissioners work to whittle down the budget.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.