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Committee recommends pay cuts, unpaid holidays

ALBANY, Ga. -- The finance committee of the Dougherty County Commission approved Administrator Richard Crowdis' proposed FY 2011 budget Wednesday, paving the way for the full commission to weigh in on the matter next week.

The committee unanimously voted to recommend the full $81.1 million budget proposal to the commission. That includes Crowdis' proposal to incorporate 12 unpaid holidays for county employees, a move projected to save $1.2 million the next fiscal year.

Even with the holidays, the county will still have to pull $3.6 million out of reserves to balance the $46.4 million general fund budget because of a persistent decline in revenues.

"We've already done the easy things (to trim the budget)," Crowdis said. "but as the recession continues to sustain itself and revenues continue to go down, this is where we are."

Two-thirds of the expenditures for the county are in personnel and benefits, Crowdis said, a segment that has largely remained untouched in previous years outside of a freeze in cost of living and merit raises.

The holidays translate into a pay cut of 4.6 percent for county employees -- a cut that county officials are trying to spread across the spectrum.

But those holidays have been the most difficult measure for committee members. Each commissioner expressed a desire to rescind the days should funding from other sources be found.

"Should some relief come in some unexpected way to mitigate this, we should be open to that," Commissioner John Hayes said.

"It's nothing we're thrilled to do, I can tell you that," Chairman Lamar Hudgins said. "And if we find some alternate source of funding you bet that our employees will take first priority."

The committee also requested that the county judges voluntarily take a 4.6 percent pay cut to be fair to other county employees, although the state constitution protects judges from pay cuts.

Supplements that augment the pay of state employees like the district attorneys, public defenders and county extension staff, will also be cut by 4.6 percent under a recommendation passed Wednesday.

Finally, the committee voted to recommend that the full commission cut their own salaries by 4.6 percent in a show of solidarity with county employees, although those cuts were already accounted for in Crowdis' budget.

Joining the committee in the audience Wednesday was Flint RiverQuarium Director Scott Loehr, who watched quietly as the committee recommended a budget that does not include $250,000 in funding for the non-profit.

When asked after the meeting what was next for the RiverQuarium, Loehr said simply that alternatives were being considered. Loehr has told the Herald recently that he was hopeful that the county commission would consider some degree of funding for the entity.

The committee also recommended that the County Commission approach the city and the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce in attempt to gain their approval on a measure that would reduce the county's $250,000 obligation to the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission by 4.6 percent or $11,500.

Under the EDC Articles of Incorporation, any reduction in funding by one member of the commission must be approved by the other two members.

Ted Clem, president of the EDC, said that he understood the financial constraints the county is under, and that the EDC would make do with the funding it was provided with, although some cuts would have to be made in some areas to adjust for the decreased funding.

The budget now heads to the full Dougherty County Commission which will begin deliberations on it Monday.

Crowdis has asked that the commission make a decision on the pay cuts and unpaid holidays by June 14 so that county employees can be given as much notice as possible of the first unpaid holiday, which is scheduled for July 5.

The full budget is expected to be adopted by June 28, with the fiscal year set to begin July 1.