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County announces specific furlough days for employees

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

Henry County employees are being notified of what specific days most of them will be furloughed, during the county's 2010-2011 budget year. The next fiscal year begins July 1.

The four days off -- without pay -- set for most departments, will be July 2, Sept. 3, in 2010, as well as April 25, and May 27, in 2011, according to Henry County Communications Director Julie Hoover-Ernst.

The exception will be for public safety, transportation, and court system employees, County Manager James "Butch" Sanders said Wednesday.

"Every county employee will be given four days in the next budget year, some will do it at different times," he said. "There's a necessary flexibility built in for public safety employees, and for some transit employees who have to work on some of those stated furlough days, as well as for State Court, which has to be in session for one of those days."

The Public Safety and Transportation departments, as well as State Court, will handle their employee furlough days internally, added Sanders.

The involuntary days off are expected to save a significant amount of money for the county, Sanders said. "We started out with the philosophy, with this round of budget discussions, that we would try to get everybody to sacrifice something for this budget," he said. "The employees, as a whole, by giving four days, are helping us save right in the neighborhood of about $1.3 million. That's a significant amount of the $9.5 million which we have cut out of the budget for this year."

Furloughing employees, however, was not an easy decision, Henry County Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis said Wednesday. "Our goal was to continue providing quality service, while minimizing the financial impact to our employees," she said. "It was a difficult decision, but in the end, I believe we found the right balance."

Compared with the staffing cuts other local governments are making to balance their budgets, Mathis said, Henry County is in good shape. "Four days are all that we need to balance this budget," she added.

In May, the Henry County Board of Commissioners adopted the FY 2011 budget of $116.84 million. The county's fiscal-year budget for last year was $126.68 million. The county sent out a memo to all county departments, announcing the specific furlough days, said Hoover-Ernst. Sanders said he provided the furlough dates to the county communications department, and Hoover-Ernst drafted the memo.

It outlined the need for the county "to find innovative ways to cut costs and increase revenues to make up for a $10 million budget shortfall, while maintaining service-delivery levels."

The memo sent to county departments pointed out how the county's financial situation has changed over time. "As we complete this year's budget cycle, the [board of commissioners] would like to express its gratitude for your commitment and dedication to helping us balance a budget that is not only $10 million less than last year's, but $850,000 less than it was five years ago, when we had 30,000 fewer people living here," the memo stated. "That is no small accomplishment, and one in which each and every one of you is to be commended. To do so, we had to make some difficult decisions, chief among which was the necessary decision to furlough all employees for four days. Many of you have expressed your support, and we thank you for your understanding and sacrifice."