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Sheriff says no to staff retirements
Conway says already understaffed, he can't lose any more employees

LAWRENCEVILLE - Understaffed already, Sheriff Butch Conway said he will not offer retirement incentives to his employees.

But it is unclear how or if he will reduce his budget by 10 percent, as commissioners asked earlier this year.

"We're already severely short-staffed," Conway said, saying the jail is operating 169 short and six housing units remain vacant because of the lack of staff to open them.

He said he can't lose another 57 employees, who qualify for retirement or are nearing the qualification.

"We can't afford to lose that many employees as a business necessity and still continue to meet our constitutional and legal mandates," said Conway, who has battled officials on budgets through the years but is facing his biggest test as the county forecasts tremendous impacts on services after a decision against raising taxes.

Last week, the sheriff's budget was cut by another $843,000, and officials said departments can expect a 10 percent cut in 2010.

"I've taken all the voluntary cuts I could accept," Conway said. "We simply cannot take any more. The commission is going to have to find some way to fund public safety. I would suggest they vote for a small tax increase."

Chairman Charles Bannister said the decision was within the sheriff's pervue.

"I'm sorry he can't find a way to give the rest of the directors and the county assistance in helping our efforts to bring spending in line," Bannister said.

Retirement incentives, including 20 percent bonuses on accrued vacation and sick time and a week's pay for every two years of service, were offered to 316 county employees in an attempt to cut 250 jobs. In departments that report to the county administrator, 202 people accepted the offers, which will cost taxpayers $4.7 million but will account for a savings of $55.2 million over the next three years.

Officials are now considering a possible reduction in force to continue to align the work force.

Constitutional officers, such as the sheriff, judges, district attorney, clerk of court and tax commissioner, can decide individually to offer the incentives to cut their own budgets. So far, the office of probate court, which has one employee eligible, is the only one to sign up for the offers.

Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Stacey Bourbonnais said employees were notified of the sheriff's decision to forego the offers, which produced a substantial cash payout for some.

"I'm sure there are some (staffers) that could be disappointed, and I understand why," Bourbonnais said.

Deputy County Administrator Mike Comer, who took the incentive himself and will retire at the end of next week, said the incentives were offered to the sheriff's department as a tool to help with the financial crisis.

"It's just a tough time," he said. "I hope the sheriff cooperates and gives his utmost."