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Sheriff agrees to help reduce spending

CONYERS -- Rockdale County Sheriff Jeff Wigington told the county Board of Commissioners Monday that his office will help find ways to cut costs to address the county's expected budget shortfall this year.

Rockdale County Chief of Staff Greg Pridgeon told the commissioners Wigington's help was welcomed as he and Rockdale County Commission Chairman Richard Oden solicit other elected officials to help cut spending in filling an expected $4.3 million budget shortfall.

Wigington said his concern was over a proposal to have furloughs or unpaid holidays included in the option to cut county spending.

"I think we can all agree we're in tough times, and we want to help out as much as we can," Wigington said. "What may be difficult is that I'll have to turn some people away for seven or six days and then turn around and pay someone time and a half to cover that shift."

Wigington said he preferred having the chairman give him a target figure for cuts from the Sheriff's Office and then allow him to adjust the budget to see how much can be cut.

"Give me a dollar amount, then let me go back and work it out rather than just cut everybody's days," he said.

The sheriff's offer is significant given the Sheriff's Office and jail make up a large portion of the county's general budget. For 2010, the Sheriff's Office and County Jail have a budget of $17.3 million, or 31 percent of the county's total general fund budget.

In other budget discussion, Pridgeon updated the commissioners on the Option 1 plan to address the budget shortfall, which includes a mix of cost-cutting measures, unpaid holidays, early retirement and an increase in the county millage rate for property taxes by 1 mill to 15.53 mills.

Option 1 has $275,300 in operational budget savings from the nine departments under direct control of the Board of Commissioners. Pridgeon said county staff members are continuing to work with the other elected county officials and there was a possibility of more savings from those offices.

Commissioner Oz Nesbitt, who has been a proponent of deeper cuts and layoffs, asked how the departments came up with those cuts. Pridgeon offered one example of Emergency Services cutting back on cleaning services and printing to offer about $5,000 in cuts for this year.

Pridgeon said that was a random example and all departments had made cuts to do more with less for the remainder of the year and prepare for next year.

"We know there will be some pain to continue providing services at the same level," Pridgeon said. "We feel we can manage this year and endure another year with the same level of funding for next year."

Estimated savings from early retirement were significantly reduced because of the county's retirement benefits points system. County employees are offered health care coverage after retirement if their combined age and years of service to the county equal 90.

Pridgeon said there were 10 individuals who would consider early retirement, but have been working toward receiving the health care package offered. He suggested to the commissioners to consider a one-time exclusion of the 90 points requirement to help those employees decide to take early retirement.

"This is something that we would ask just for this year, and it would have to be a positive for the county," he said. "If it doesn't help the county, then we shouldn't do it."