County starts cutting budget
Fire stations delayed, extra cops slashed

LAWRENCEVILLE - Commissioners cut $20 million from the county budget Tuesday, but reallocated funds to hire prosecutors to combat drug cartels.

The cuts will delay the openings of three fire stations, two of which were set to open next month, a library branch and keep the county from hiring 47 extra police officers.

But the reductions, which staff say is only the first round to clear the county finances in a time of economic distress, did not include layoffs of staff, furloughs or even take out raises promised to employees.

"What we are attempting to do is make the cuts where the pain will be the least," County Administrator Jock Connell said.

After a public outcry, commissioners voted earlier this month against a proposed millage rate increase to bolster public safety. But that left an $8 million budget gap in 2009. The decision Tuesday plugged that gap, staffers said, but a hole remains in the 2010 spending plan.

Chairman Charles Bannister said he believes a tax increase may still be necessary to ensure the county's future - "unless we shut some doors."

"We heard the message sent to us by the citizens," on the millage rate, he said. "We will not stop here. These cuts will be aggressive."

Marcy Pharris, a Snellville woman who attended Tuesday's Board of Commissioners meeting, said she was glad to see the cuts.

"The budget was way out of hand," she said. "Everybody is cutting back, and the county needs to, too."

But commissioners changed a proposal that would have wiped out any new spending programs in 2009, voting to continue with a plan to hire two prosecutors dedicated to drug cases, an attorney for the Juvenile Court and a criminal investigator. Two vacant positions in the District Attorney's Office were also saved, the sole vacant positions to remain open in county government.

"I think one of those messages (sent by citizens) is public safety and prosecution of criminals is at the top of the list," of priorities, Commissioner Bert Nasuti said.