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Freeze on for county hires
Safety positions exempt

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett's government has implemented a hiring freeze because of flat revenues, although police officers and sheriff's deputies will still be recruited.

County Administrator Jock Connell said the freeze of 77 positions will save about $4.5 million over the next 12 months. He has also asked elected officials such as the district attorney and tax commissioner to freeze hiring of eight positions, which would save another $700,000.

"When you cannot control the rising costs of the fuel, asphalt and other items essential to the operation of your business, you have to find other adjustments that can have an immediate balancing impact," Connell said. "We will continue to assess our situation and make further modifications as conditions warrant."

Connell said he does not have any layoff plans, but officials are examining the county's entire cost structure to "see if we can squeeze every drop of water out of the rag."

Because of the rising cost of fuel, officials already directed several conservation methods, including asking police officers to turn off their engines and restricting firefighters from traveling to public relations events.

The freeze prepares officials for the upcoming sessions, which begin after Labor Day, to prepare the 2009 county budget, Connell said.

"I anticipate as we move down the road, we're looking for as many reasonable cuts as we can make going into the '09 budget," he said, noting that he hopes to avoid cuts to services.

There is no proposal to increase rates, he added. "Right now we're focusing on costs."

Because of the downturn in construction, the Department of Planning and Development has been under a "soft freeze" for the last several months. Likewise, the Department of Water Resources hasn't hired staff because of declining revenues while customers conserve water during the on-going drought.

In the 2008 budget, commissioners authorized 4,893 positions, but the county currently has a total of 4,753 employees.

Of the 77 positions frozen, 26 are non-sworn personnel in the police department, 18 are in the community services department and 17 are in water resources, according to numbers provided by Human Resources Director Kenneth Poe.

The county will continue recruitment to fill 54 vacancies for sworn police officers, two corrections officers, 10 firefighters and 13 sheriff's deputies.

Poe said Connell has also given permission to continue recruitment for two high-profile jobs: the director of water resources and the warden of the county prison.

The freeze does apply to part-time and temporary positions, but Poe noted that many of the part-time jobs are seasonal employment such as lifeguards during the summer.

In the coming months, the county is expected to use a lot of temporary staffers to help with the upcoming election. Poe and Connell said those would still be filled, although Poe noted that department heads must make a business case for any hiring.

"Over the past year, revenues have been flat, but of even greater concern, expenses are up about eight percent," Chairman Charles Bannister said, referring to rises in fuel costs, groceries to feed inmates and other costs. "I've directed staff to take proactive measures now to avoid any later reductions in essential services."