NCSO cuts remain up in the air

COVINGTON -- Two weeks after commissioners passed the fiscal year 2011 budget, Sheriff Ezell Brown said he's still working to try to find ways to trim his budget and reduce the number of layoffs in his department.

All told, 30 employees have been laid off by Newton County, but the Sheriff's Office has yet to submit a list of employees to the county commission office, although the budget year began July 1.

In a press release, Brown said that layoffs are imminent but he is attempting to take every possible measure to minimize the number of displaced employees.

"It's very difficult to work alongside individuals for more than 30 years and not fight for their jobs," he said.

Brown said he and his command staff have been reviewing departmental spending and eliminating as many costs as possible. After the budget was approved, the sheriff said he and his management team began "carving out a comprehensive plan for addressing the situation."

"We set out on a mission of cutting the budget with the least amount of adverse effects on the services rendered, employees and their families. We are exploring a variety of cost-cutting measures that include asking all employees to donate time; polling employees for suggestions; tightening the belt on office and transportation-related costs. Vendors that have served the department are considering reducing their costs to aid in reducing the number of displaced employees," Brown said.

If the results don't add up to enough cost savings to keep everyone employed, the layoff process will begin, he said.

The Sheriff's Office faced layoffs of up to 58 employees with the initial budget proposal, but with the adoption of the rollback millage rate, that estimate was decreased to about 22.

"The sheriff has acknowledged he has a net budget for this fiscal year based on the advertised summary of (the) proposed operating budget for FY 2011," BOC Chairman Kathy Morgan said in response to an e-mail inquiry on how the delay in action could affect the current budget. "He is making adjustments and changes, some involving personnel, last week and this week. He will submit an adjustment budget to finance this week, meeting the adjusted net budget amount along with all constitutional officers and department heads. All others have complied, however the sheriff's budget is the largest affected, and the request for time is a measure to make a careful review, minimizing all changes required to comply with the budget awarded by the BOC."