County looking at budget

By Justin Reedy

Budget writers for the Clayton County government took steps to trim the county's operating costs in the upcoming fiscal year, but at least one county commissioner plans on looking for more possible cuts.

Faced with a multimillion sales tax revenue shortfall due to a struggling economy, Clayton County had to take steps to further control spending in its budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. And though the county's proposed budget includes only a modest spending increase n total spending will go from about $118 million to $124 million, or increase about 5.5 percent n some county officials think more cuts can be made.

"I still think we need to tighten up a little more," said Commissioner Virginia Gray after Tuesday night's first public hearing on the proposed budget. "We owe it to the citizens to take out every frill or fringe within reason. We just need to tighten up as much as we can. Everybody else is doing it."

Though Gray hasn't identified any specific areas that need to be cut and doesn't know for sure the budget needs to be cut, she plans on reviewing the budget further before the June 17 meeting at which the Clayton County Board of Commissioners could give final approval to the spending package.

Not all of the commission has Gray's misgivings, though. Commissioner Gerald Matthews thinks the document is the best work the county staff could write considering the budget constraints the staff was under.

"Our folks have worked awful hard to come up with a realistic budget, and they have come up with a realistic budget," Matthews said after the budget meeting.

The county could easily have made up the revenue shortfall by cutting its services to the public, Matthews said, but it didn't do that.

"When you start looking at the budget process, you look at what you can cut," Matthews said. "I don't think we cut any services in this budget. I don't think the public is going to see a single cut to their services in this budget year."

The proposed budget doesn't include much in capital spending, but it does feature about $2.5 million in road improvement funding that county officials say is necessary to keep from losing matching funds from the state.

"We've got several projects that we're obligated to do in order to get funding from the state," Chairman Crandle Bray said. "We tried to establish the bare minimum so we didn't lose money from the state."

The budget draft also includes about $1.4 million to fund 40 new full-time positions, but Bray said those are all necessary to prevent serious problems with county operations and public services. About five of those positions are part-time spots being converted to full-time jobs because the people working in them are already working full-time hours, Bray said, so there won't be a significant spending increase associated with those positions.

Another 12 correctional officers are being added for the county jail, which officials say has been understaffed, while three detective positions are being added to the Police Department to handle a heavier caseload. Three more positions are being added to the Finance Department to tackle new auditing rules required this year by the state.

"We haven't added any that weren't absolutely necessary," Bray said.