By Joel Hall
For the first time in recent memory, the county government and all of its offices will have to take furlough days, in order to balance the budget.
Starting next Friday, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) will institute the first of four furlough days scheduled over the course of the next fiscal year. On Sept. 3, Dec. 30, April 22 and May 27, the county Administration Building, all county departments, the county court system, the library system, and the administrative offices of the Sheriff's Department will be closed, to save money.
According BOC Vice Chairman Wole Ralph, the four furlough days, in addition to a series of departmental cuts, were an answer to a proposed fiscal 2011 budget that contemplated a 4-percent, across-the-board salary cut for all county employees. He said the four furlough days will save the county $1.5 million.
"The 4-percent cut would have saved about $4.5 million," Ralph said. "The four furlough days were in lieu of the 4-percent cut, which would have been a lot more devastating. You would have to have 13 furlough days to equal the $4.5 million. [In order to make up the difference], we did a number of different budget cuts. We got rid of some departments all together ... there's some savings in the insurance as well that we realized to make up that balance."
Ralph said that after discussions with county department heads and elected officials, the board decided to make most of the county's furlough days fall around holidays. Sept. 3 will coincide with Labor Day, Dec. 30 will coincide with New Year's Day, April 22 is Good Friday, and May 27 coincides with Memorial Day.
While many county employees will receive a four-day weekend around the holidays, the furloughs will impact various county departments differently.
District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson said that many of her most-senior employees, those who are paid by the state, have had to take 18 furlough days since 2009. She said this will be the first time she will have to furlough county-paid employees, which will effectively shut down the adjudication of cases on those days.
"I'm one of the only offices that have already had to deal with furloughs, because I have a lot of state employees," Graham said. "I've paid them out of drug forfeiture money, so I can keep them at work, but I don't have money to pay all of the employees. I am sad that county employees have to be furloughed in order to balance the budget, but I understand the commissioners were placed in a difficult position because of the decrease in revenue.
"My educated guess is that we would probably move 50 or fewer cases a day [when the courts are in session]," she continued. "For everyday that we are not open, it impedes us in that manner."
Sheriff Kem Kimbrough said with the courts closed on the furlough days, deputies who guard the courts will take those days off with no pay. However, patrolmen and deputies who staff the county jail will have to stagger their furlough days.
"I can't pull all of my officers off the street," Kimbrough said. "The public safety departments, in order to maintain some level of service, we will have to spread those furlough days out over a longer amount of time. My administrative staff will take [the] four furlough days like everybody else.
"There's a range of responses I've heard," from employees, he continued. "No matter how you put a pretty face on it, it is a net loss in pay. We will sacrifice ... in the bad times and we're hoping that the county will see those employees who stuck with them and reward them during the good times."
According to Clayton County Police Department spokesperson, Lt. Tina Daniel, all of the police department's administrative staff will take their furlough days on the dates set by the county. Uniformed police officers, however, will be assigned one furlough day per quarter over the next fiscal year, she said.
The records departments of both the police department and Sheriff's Office will be closed on the furlough days, according to county officials.
According to Clayton County Library System Director Carol Stewart, the library system will be closed on the Fridays on which the furlough days fall, but will be open on Saturdays, from 9 a.m., to 5 p.m., in accordance with its regular operating times. Following Labor Day weekend, up until Memorial Day weekend, the libraries will also offer Sunday hours, from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m., she said.
"We're going to be closed on Friday, which is not a quiet day, but it is the least-busy day of the week, so not as many people will be inconvenienced," said Stewart. She said that county employees haven't seen a raise since 2007 and that, in general, employees of the county are happy to have the furlough days rather than the salary cuts.
"A pay cut is permanent," Stewart said. "That would have been terrible for everybody, especially for anyone near retirement. This is way-much better."