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Cost-cutting moves here to stay for Hall County
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Hall County’s officials rolled up their sleeves this week to discuss how the county can best weather the rough economic times.

Hall County commissioners and department heads spent all day Thursday and half of Friday at Hall County’s Winter Workshop at the Spout Springs Library in Flowery Branch.

As a primer, County Administrator Charley Nix lined up a top economist from SunTrust Bank and real estate executive Frank Norton Jr. of the Norton Company to brief the group on the current economic climate.

"I thought having a Q and A session with an expert would be really helpful before we even start, to give a macro sort of view," Nix said. "Then we rolled our sleeves up and started discussions of the planning and budget itself."

Money-saving practices enacted this year will continue into next year as the economic outlook remains grim.

Mandatory employee furloughs, a hiring freeze and a halt on all capital purchases will continue as the county looks to cut $5 million.

"We’re trying our best to do that without layoffs," Nix said. "But you can’t take that possibility off the table."

Employees can also expect to go without annual pay raises, known as merit increases. Nix said the 3 percent salary increases likely would save up to $1.5 million.

"It’s going to take a lot of effort on each person’s part," Nix said. "Everybody understands what we’re going through right now."

Hall now has 72 vacant positions. The county’s goal is to leave 88 unfilled, representing a savings of up to $4 million.

The group also talked about the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax projects and the stimulus funds that could be coming toward Hall County.

If the SPLOST is renewed by voters at the polls March 17, the county projects about $30 million to be collected annually.

"It depends a great deal on the economy," Nix said. "We felt reasonably good that the low would be $28 million and the high would be $32 million."

Nix said the group also discussed the projects for which the county hopes to receive federal stimulus funds. Among those is a reservoir in North Hall, sewer facilities in South Hall and a new animal control facility.

Nix remains skeptical about how much of the federal money will trickle down to local governments.

"I’m not sure how much that’s going to help us," he said.