County faces more cuts

ALBANY -- Declining revenues may force Dougherty County officials to look at personnel options -- including unpaid holidays or furloughs -- as they try to build a budget while bracing for what may be a $2 million dip to their bottom line.

During Friday morning's meeting of the Dougherty County Commission's Finance Committee, Administrator Richard Crowdis told committee members that additional measures would likely be needed to create a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Georgia's state constitution requires local governments to operate with a balanced budget meaning they are prohibited by law from spending more money than they take in.

And with those revenues trending downward for the third straight year -- to the tune of $2 million -- some officials believe that existing policies to trim the fat from the budget simply won't be enough to keep up.

"Revenues are down, expenditures are in line with the budget, but we have to do something," Finance Committee Chairman Lamar Hudgins said. "They're (Crowdis and staff) going to have to make some recommendations and some tough decisions on what to bring back before us."

County governments provide money to constitutional officers who then have the authority under state law to legally do anything they want with that money.

For example, the county commission should implement furlough days, but Sheriff Kevin Sproul could ignore the furlough order if he believes he can make his money stretch without the furloughs.

Sproul, who says he isn't a big fan of unpaid holidays or furloughs, said he understands the financial situation facing the county and pledged to work with the commission.

"We're trying to be optimistic and positive here. We know we're all blessed to have jobs, period," Sproul said. "With that being said though, as sheriff, my first priority is the safety and well being of the community and of my employees and cutting the public safety budget can affect both of those.

"We've sacrificed like everyone else, with the cuts last year and the cuts this year," Sproul said. "But we'll work with Mr. Crowdis and see if we can't bridge the gap the best we can."

Sproul -- who oversees roughly one-third of the county's total budget through operation of the jail and the sheriff's department -- said that his current budget proposal includes a five percent cut on top of a 5 percent cut last year.

Crowdis says that one option that seems to have worked well in other counties is eliminating paid holidays.

"After speaking with some people in other counties the idea of unpaid holidays seems like one that would allow for a smooth transition into the furlough process without hurting our service delivery because people already associate it as a day when county offices are closed," Crowdis said.

The idea, which is still being researched, is estimated to save the county $880,000.

Currently, roughly two-thirds of the county's budget is in salaries and benefits so any adjustment in that area would have a significant impact.

"We're hoping that something like that would help us weather the storm until things get better," Crowdis said. "We have to cut our dependency on our reserve transfers. We just can't continue to pull money out each year so we have to find ways to trim expenses."