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BOC makes changes to furlough days

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners has approved two resolutions that make changes to the county's work furlough plans.

The resolutions, designed to make the carrying out of the days more efficient, were unanimously passed by the commission on Tuesday.

A furlough day originally set for Dec. 30, has been moved to Feb. 21, 2011.

One resolution sets the furlough days as "public and legal holidays within the county," and "requests that all elected officials of Clayton County observe such legal holidays."

Declaring the furlough days as county holidays, and moving one of the furlough days, helped address some unresolved, and unforeseen issues from the original decision to create furlough days for county employees, said county attorney, Michael Smith.

"[Moving one furlough day] had to do with coordinating the financial systems ... things got confusing [with the first furlough day, Sept. 3]," Smith said. "We made them legal holidays because we needed to be able to do that to close the courthouse, and other county offices on those days."

Initially, commissioners approved the furlough days as part of the county's fiscal year 2011 budget, to help cut expenses in the county at a time when the local, state and national economies were faltering.

When the commission approved the furloughs as part of the county's budget, commissioners said it was done to avoid having to issue a 4-percent salary cut to employees. The furloughs are expected to save the county $1.5 million, said commission Vice-Chairman Wole Ralph.

He added the commission took other steps, including reducing the size of, and consolidating, some county departments, and shutting others down as a way to avoid cutting employee salaries.

"In order to deal with some of the shortfall in revenue throughout the county ... it became necessary to make sure the county reduced its expenditures," Ralph said. "Therefore we instituted four furlough days, and made a number of other cuts."

Employees do not get paid for furlough days, according to one of the resolutions passed on Tuesday.

Public safety departments in the county must determine their own furlough days so they do not "impact the provision of services while at the same time insuring that each employee observes four furlough days" during the fiscal year, according to one of the furlough-related resolutions.

County Finance Director Angela Jackson said moving the Dec. 30 furlough day to February, was needed because some departments were slow to turn in documentation from the first furlough day in September. She said a repeat of the problem in December would have caused problems meeting a deadline for reporting end-of-the-year employee salary information to the federal government.

"We still have to report things, such as the [employee salary] W-2 forms, to the federal government at the end of the year," she said. In addition to the Sept. 3, and Feb. 21, 2011, furlough dates, county employees will also be furloughed on April 22, and May 27, 2011. In each case, the furlough date is linked to an established, traditionally recognized holiday.

In the case of Feb. 21, that is President's Day, while April 22, 2011, is Good Friday (the Friday before Easter), and May 27, 2011, is the Friday before Memorial Day.

Changes to the furlough days have not quieted some of the voices expressing opposition to the need for such days.

Commission Chairman, Eldrin Bell, said the commission "could, and should reconsider the days," after Jackson informed the commission the county currently has a balance of $22 million in its general fund.

"We're at the level we were at, at the beginning of the fiscal year," Bell said. "We could consider giving our employees these days back."

Ralph said, however, it is too soon to determine whether the county is in a position to eliminate the furlough days.

"It is our hope that we will quickly see how an end to the economic downturn will affect the county," Ralph said. "But, we are just beginning to receive our property tax revenues, so we're still nowhere near being able to determine if we'll be able to cancel any of the future furlough days."