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County discusses pay cuts
Commissioners could decide today how to handle $5M shortfall

COVINGTON - County commissioners are expected to decide how to handle the more than $5 million budget shortfall projected for this fiscal year at their regular 7 p.m. meeting today at the Newton County Historic Courthouse.

On the table for consideration are salary cuts and furloughs for employees, according to BOC Chairman Kathy Morgan.

During a six-hour work session Saturday, commissioners went through the budget to try to reduce costs for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

County department heads were asked to cut their budgets by 20 percent. After this was completed, a shortfall of between $1 million and $1.2 million still remained.

The board reached a consensus that a salary reduction or furloughs would likely be necessary.

"We're still working on it today. We're meeting with department heads to come up with additional cuts and looking at anything that might be able to make a difference," Morgan said. "I don't know the percentage amount (that would be cut). We're just working on it nonstop, trying to affect employees the least way possible. We're trying to protect jobs and benefits overall. There's not an easy answer here."

Cuts that have already been made include leaving open positions unfilled and delaying equipment and office supply purchases.

Some capital improvement projects will also be delayed, including some road resurfacing projects, which could be postponed until at least July.

"We're not looking for a bailout from someone to make this go away. We're dealing with it realistically," Morgan said.

Morgan pointed out that the shortage is in the general fund and does not affect special purpose local option sales tax collections or impact fees, which are earmarked for specific capital improvement projects.

"We literally looked at every area to find these dollars without affecting employees," Morgan said. "We do not want to cut the benefits of employees at this time. We just want to balance the budget. We want to be fair to each and every employee. We're not putting the burden on one area of the county. We know we have great employees, and we know our employees are doing their part."

Morgan said commissioners agreed that, "Whatever we ask the employees to do, we will do as well. The constitutional officers I have spoken to this morning agreed to make the same adjustment themselves. We're not asking employees to do anything we're not doing ourselves."

Beth Brown, director of communications for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said what Newton County is experiencing is not out of the ordinary. Counties across the state are resorting to furloughs, hiring freezes and layoffs as well as cutting spending to make up for declining revenues, she said.

"A lot of counties are looking at having to deal with declining revenues and having to make tough decisions in order to meet their budgets. With the state facing a $2.2 billion shortfall, it's not surprising counties are also seeing a decline in revenues. The challenge is letting the public know why, because it usually means a reduction in services. In most cases, it's going to take some things that are going to be painful and result in loss of services," she said.

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