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New county budget proposal eliminates paid holidays

By Michael Davis

mdavis@myjpa.com

Under a new county budget proposal floated Monday, Butts County employees would not be asked to close offices early on Wednesdays this fall, but they would lose 10 paid holidays.

In an effort to shrink a budget gap of more than $1 million, county officials are trying to find a way to shave $300,000 from Butts County's payroll. While still a work in progress, officials project $17.82 million in revenue, but $18.63 million in expenses in fiscal 2011 -- even after cutting payroll. The difference would be made up with money from the county's reserve fund.

But the question for county commissioners on Monday was how best to make the salary cuts.

Under a plan recommended last week, the county's employees who don't work in public safety would take a nearly 6 percent pay cut, and reduce their hours by closing county offices at 1 p.m., on Wednesdays, beginning in October. The county's public safety workers would take a roughly 3 percent pay cut from losing eight of their 10 paid holidays, meaning they wouldn't get the usual overtime pay for working on holidays.

Some officials balked at the plan, and an alternative that would have cut all employees' pay by 4 percent to achieve the same savings.

Butts County Probate Judge Vicki W. Johnston said the pay cuts contemplated in the first plan, which separates public safety workers from others, treats some employees unfairly.

"My people, yes, are going to work less, but I just can't see putting a 6 percent cut on the backs of some of the people and 3 percent on somebody else," she said. "I'm not real thrilled with across-the-board 4 percent, because I'm afraid we're going to never get it back ...putting a 6 percent cut on some, and only a 3 percent on others, can you all tell me how that can be fair? How does that work that it's fair?"

Some at Monday's budget work session expressed opposition to the 4 percent across-the-board salary cut, fearing its possible impact on those who may be retiring soon.

Butts County Commission Chairman Mitch McEwen said going with the third option presented -- eliminating the 10 paid holidays the county's 261 employees receive -- could help ensure that employees down the road don't have to fight to get their pay back up to today's levels.

"A lot of times, you'll see salary cuts that get lost in the shuffle," he said.

Under the third proposal County Administrator Alan White presented to commissioners Monday, employees would lose their 10 paid holidays, which would achieve a savings of more than $261,000. To reach the target of $300,000 in salary reductions, employees would also be required to take a furlough day.

White said such a cut may still impact those readying for retirement, because it represents a reduction in pay, and may also impact some employees more than others, given the nature of public safety work.

"Percentage wise, it's still going to have an impact unequally, because of the variety of departments that we have in the county," White said. "Somewhere along the way, a day's pay will be lost to everybody on that furlough day."

Commissioners gave White the go-ahead to recalculate budget projections based on the elimination of paid holidays and the addition of the furlough day. He is expected to present an updated draft to commissioners Tuesday, during a meeting at 5:30 p.m.