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County looking at shrinking budget
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Effingham County commissioners are holding a workshop Tuesday afternoon on the proposed fiscal year 2013 budget — a budget that reflects a potential increase in health insurance and cuts in county staffing and in county contributions to retirement plans.

General fund revenues are expected to be $26.81 million for fiscal year 2013, and expenditures are proposed to be slashed by more than $270,000 from FY12.  It is a 1 percent decrease from FY12 spending.

Other budget proposals that the budget committee has considered — and may come up for further discussion by the whole board — are furlough days, putting EMS and fire services out for bid and cuts to pay and benefits for elected officials. Commissioners also may take another look at the four-day work week.

Chairman Dusty Zeigler also asked if commissioners would be willing to give up their salaries for the coming year to alleviate budget strain. In the draft budget, the commissioners’ recommended allocation is being reduced by more than $7,000.

The commissioners’ salary is based on state guidelines. It increases according to population, commissioner’s length of service and time.

“I had suggested that commissioners voluntarily forego their salaries in exchange for compensation similar to city council members, who receive minimal pay per meeting,” Zeigler said.

Zeigler estimated that could have reduced the budget by another $200,000.

The county also may look at reducing its contribution to employee retirement plans. Zeigler said doing so may save as much as $500,000, but he wasn’t certain how accurate that figure was.

“Perhaps that would be a solution to reduce the budget to some degree,” he said. “Another proposal is subcontracting EMS services out altogether. There might be some savings there.”

The draft budget also calls for a millage rate of 8.95, below the rollback rate of 9.427.

In the draft budget presented to commissioners, County Administrator David Crawley spells out the economic hurdles the county has faced in the last year.

“A depressed economy has continued to slow housing starts, home and land sales and increased foreclosures,” he said.

Those factors have led to a $140 million decrease in the property tax digest value, according to Crawley.

“However, during economic hardship, it is important to balance levels of service,” Crawley noted.

The county is projecting to eliminate what equates to 9.55 full-time employees. Restructuring, schedule changes and not filling open positions could allow the county to reach that number. The reductions call for a decrease in 12 full-time employees and one from the elected/appointed category. Under the draft budget, the number of part-time employees will increase by one and the temporary/seasonal employees will increase by 29.6 percent.

“I believe the No. 1 duty of commissioners is to ensure the leanest and most efficient government possible,” Zeigler said. “The state of the economy, especially the local economy, is the very best indicator and decision-making tool for commissioners. Hopefully, taxpayers understand that by reducing staff level of services will also be reduced. This will require patience as county services may take several more days to be accomplished.

“It’s my opinion that a speedy government demands higher revenues and more resources. The conundrum is: just how fast and efficient do taxpayers want their government to react to their demands?”

Merit raises and cost of living adjustments for county employees have been eliminated as part of the draft budget.

Commissioner Bob Brantley authored a letter to countywide elected officials, asking for a voluntary reduction in their pay.

“Unfortunately, this is not a popular idea,” Zeigler said.