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County looking at more budget cuts

COVINGTON - Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan and county staff are busy finding even more ways to trim the fiscal year 2010 budget after receiving news that the county will be about $929,000 short in property tax revenues.

Morgan, Administrative Assistant John Middleton and staff in the county Finance Department are going through the budget line item by line item, trying to find areas where as little as $500 or $1,000 can be cut.

"We have to do this because we have to balance this budget by law," Morgan said.

About three weeks ago, county officials were notified that a computer error resulted in miscalculation of tax revenues. Fifty accounts that should have been counted as freeport exemptions were instead counted as taxable property. The mistake was made during conversion to a new software system in the Tax Assessors Office.

Though there is an approximately $250,000 contingency built into the budget, "We don't have $929,000," Morgan said.

Therefore, cuts will have to be made anywhere they can be, though Morgan said she hopes no more employees will be terminated.

The county cut 16.5 positions - some were part-time - during the last round of budget cuts in June.

"I'm hoping we won't have to resort to that. It would be very difficult to displace the employees we have. For each of those we lost ... you can tell there's a cost in the service provided," Morgan said, adding that the goal is to affect service to residents as minimally as possible.

While some commissioners have expressed concerns about reducing services, such as shortening hours at recycling centers, because the savings is minimal, Morgan noted that, "Those $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 expenses quickly add up to $1 million."

In addition to laying off employees, the county required remaining personnel to take 16 unpaid holidays, cut capital projects and departmental expenditures and took other cost-cutting measures to balance the budget.

"There was no skinny before. This will leave us with absolutely no reserve other than the fund balance. We're trying to protect the fund balance because the credit of the county is very important," Morgan said. The county must maintain a fund balance of 15 percent of the budget to keep it's credit rating.

The Board of Commissioners is expected to address the budget shortfall at its regular 7 p.m. meeting on Aug. 18 in the Newton County Historic Courthouse, located at 1124 Clark St.

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