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Deficit has county looking at furloughs

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A projected $3 million shortfall in Georgetown County’s proposed budget may mean furloughs for county employees.

That’s one of several solutions being explored to close the gap left by a combination of decreased revenues, increased cost of operations and state cuts, County Administrator Sel Hemingway told County Council this week.

Council asked for more details, but Hemingway said he’d “like to reserve that conversation” for a budget workshop set for Tuesday. He wants to present other options as well, and talk about the impact of each on employees.

“We’re looking at assigning a number and seeing just how much (a furlough day) means and how many of those days we may consider,” Hemingway said.

A furlough day is an unpaid holiday that must be taken in a given time period.

The fiscal 2010 budget is expected to be about $54 million, but with numbers for some funds still being worked up, Scott Proctor, the county finance director, said he isn’t certain of the exact figure yet.

Most of the details should be available in time for the workshop, but Hemingway said he gave a bare bones overview this week so council would have a better idea of what to expect.

In addition to furloughs, staff is also looking at the possibility of harvesting and selling timber on some county property. Hemingway said a professional forester would be brought in to evaluate the impact.

Cost-saving measures the county began last year to create a balanced $54.1 million budget will be continued. Those include across-the-board cost reductions and delays to filling employee vacancies and replacing equipment.

Every open position and item scheduled for replacement is analyzed, he said.

Something notably absent from Hemingway’s list of options were tax increases.

“I don’t think there’s any appetite for a tax increase,” said Council Member Glen O’Connell.

Use of the reserve fund was suggested, something the county managed to avoid when preparing its budget last year.

However, in February council was notifified of a $1 million shortfall in the current budget as a result of reduced revenues that necessitated using $600,000 from the county’s reserves.

County policy is to keep $8 million in reserve in case of a disaster, such as a hurricane. The fund has $9 million left.

If the county borrows for the fund again for the 2010 budget, adequate reserves would be maintained, Hemingway told council.

Of the $3 million deficit in the proposed budget, $1.7 million comes from the general fund, which calls for $23.1 million in expenditures. The Midway Fire and Rescue budget, with projected expenditures of $3.1 million, is short $217,580.

The county normally experiences a shortfall in victim services and that will be the case again. A $75,823 deficit is projected. Revenues total $184,795. Research is being done on possible changes that could be made.

“We’re trying to get down to the bottom line to determine what our responsibility is,” Hemingway said.

There is a possibility the county may join other counties to make a collective plea to the legislature to look at revising how victims services is funded. A $751,001 deficit is projected for environmental services with projected expenditures of $6.9 million.

Hemingway said he hopes to have some of the deficits filled in by Tuesday by continuing to whittle away at expenses.

One thing staff won’t be able to incorporate into the draft budget by Tuesday are the effects of state budget cuts. They won’t know the extent of those until legislators wrap up their work. The legislative session ends in three weeks.

The workshop begins at 6 p.m. in council chambers.

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