Officials consider interim budget
County commissioners may hold off creating final plan

LAWRENCEVILLE - County commissioners will consider a trimmed down budget Tuesday, although more cuts are expected in 2009.

Officials have proposed an interim operating budget of $890,520,883 - less than the chairman's proposal of $919 million released Dec. 1, but still about 2 percent higher than the 2008 spending plan, as it was readjusted at mid-year.

The latest suggestion calls for a $12.2 million use of the general fund's reserves, short of eliminating the $43 million dip in the previous proposal, but it incorporates about $26.2 million in savings from a study recently conducted to find efficiencies and consider cuts to service. Acting Finance Director Maria Woods would not provide details on those cuts Friday.

In a memo describing the spending plan, officials said it included a cut of 115 staff positions, which includes the already announced layoffs of employees in the planning and development and water resources divisions and other vacant positions.

While the budget includes new positions to open Fire Station 29 and expand Fire Station 18, Woods said the proposal includes the delay of hiring more firefighters for a 30th station, 29 new police offices and other staff.

The spending plan, which was also described as a continuation budget, is expected to be revisited in the coming weeks, as officials consider program changes, the service study and the impact of the upcoming legislative session, County Administrator Jock Connell said.

"I think it's prudent to slow down and take a more methodical approach," he said. "It's more important to get it right than get it done. ... I think we'll end up with a better product in the end. For me, it's the responsible way to go."

Commissioners are required by law to pass a spending plan during the first January session, but Kevin Kenerly, the longest serving board member, said he doesn't remember ever considering an interim budget.

"As long as I've been in office, it's been pretty prosperous times," he said of the suburban county once among the fastest growing in the nation. "You have to look at things you haven't looked at in the past. ... We've got to figure out what is the most important to the citizens that we have to keep. It's going to be difficult."

Chairman Charles Bannister said he thought the era of government cuts could continue for at least the next two years.

But Connell said the delay in creating a final budget until February or March was not a concern.

"We need time to make sure we got the numbers right and we have considered all the consequences," he said.

The county's proposed capital spending plan has also been reduced to account for a lower projection in sales tax proceeds from the recently approved 2009 special purpose local option sales tax.