Georgia county expecting $55 million budget deficit for next year

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Dekalb county, part of the Atlanta metro area, is reporting an expected $55 million shortfall for the 2011 budget year after experiencing falling tax revenues and increasing employee pension costs. County commissioners are looking to reorganize county government, instead of raising taxes.

The budget deficit comes despite cuts of about $100 million last year. County commissioners ordered 10 furlough days in 2010 which saved the county a total of $12 million, but county employees protested. Police officers struck back by writing 20,000 fewer tickets between May 1 and August 31 compared to the same time last year- costing the county $3 million.

In September, the commission passed a resolution saying it would only seek tax increases if the county CEO reorganizes the local government. Commissioner Elaine Boyer said “We need to reorganize. We need to talk layoffs. Everything has to be on the table this year. We said we want a balanced budget with no millage increase.

Until the county government is reorganized, the commission is looking at severe cuts affecting all departments. The county has identified about $20 million in savings so far. Under consideration are more layoffs and furloughs, closing libraries, recreation centers, satellite tax offices and some fire stations.

Earlier this year, a study by Georgia State University said that the county government was bloated and concluded that 909 positions could be cut. The county released 825 employees through an early retirement program, but turned around and hired over 600 new workers to replace them.

Despite reductions in services and fewer county employees, next year the county will be required to pay $17 million more to the employees’ pension fund. In order to do so, the county is recommending that it stop paying school crossing guards, raising ambulance fees and cutting food services at senior centers.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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