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County considers cutting holiday pay to reduce deficit

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

LAWRENCEVILLE — Gwinnett County employees could lose four days of holiday pay this year, as the county is proposing to turn those days into unpaid furlough days to save money.

The proposal is one of four cost-cutting measures that will be presented Tuesday to the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners for approval. The measures are being considered as part of the county’s effort to close an $18 million gap in the 2011 budget.

The proposed furloughs would reduce the county’s annual payroll by just under $2.8 million. If approved by commissioners, the holidays that will be treated as unpaid furlough days are Independence Day (July 4), Labor Day (Sept. 5), the Friday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 25) and Christmas Eve (observed this year on Dec. 23).

About $2.1 million of the total savings will reduce the general fund deficit.

Other cost-cutting measures under consideration on Tuesday include the following:

• Redirecting a 0.23 mill tax levy from debt service to general operations. The county plans to retire a 2002 general obligation bond that was paid off in January. Instead of rolling back the millage rate, the county wants to reallocate the $4.8 million generated by that 0.23 mill tax levy from debt service to general operations. If that is approved, property owners would see no impact on their property taxes this year, as the total millage rate would stay the same.

• Accepting $1.36 million in voluntary departmental budget reductions, with $847,000 of the total reductions coming from the general fund. The proposed cuts include eliminating seven vacant positions — five in the corrections department, one in information technology and one in community services — and cutting part-time salaries in the police department. Currently, no one is receiving that part-time pay. Additionally, the county plans to eliminate its advertising budget for employee recruitment, primarily for police officer positions.

• Reducing contributions to the Risk Management and Workers’ Compensation funds and the Fleet/Equipment Capital Project Fund, for a total of about $5 million in savings. About $4 million of that would reduce the general fund deficit.

The proposed reductions to the Risk Management and Workers’ Compensation Funds are based on the fact that claims against both funds dropped significantly in 2010. County officials say the reduction in taxpayer-funded claims can be attributed to a program initiated in 2009 to manage the county’s exposure to risk.

The cut to the Fleet/Equipment Capital Project fund is possible because the county eliminated about 250 vehicles in 2009 and 2010, which had the effect of lowering the annual contribution to the county’s annual fleet replacement budget.

In combination with actions taken earlier this year to reduce the $18 million gap in the 2011 budget, the four items would, if approved, leave the county only about $2.6 million to fill the remainder of the general fund shortfall.

“The items up for consideration by the board next Tuesday will make a significant dent in our budget shortfall this year, and yet the changes themselves will have minimal impact on the level of service we provide to our citizens,” Commission Vice Chair Shirley Lasseter said in a news release. “I appreciate our staff and citizens for thinking outside the box and bringing forward sound solutions to our budgetary challenges.”

Aaron Bovos, the county’s deputy county administrator and chief financial officer, said the proposals stem from input and guidance from county residents through the Engage Gwinnett process. County managers and staff also identified cost savings.

“If these changes are approved by the commission, we will be very close to balancing the 2011 budget, and I’m confident we can finish that job very quickly,” Bovos said. “But that doesn’t mean our work is done. Fiscal year 2012 promises to continue to be challenging. Right now we expect to have a significant deficit for next year, so we have to continue this work and begin thinking about how we can close that gap.”