County employees got an early Christmas gift this year from the Hall County Board of Commissioners — no more furlough days for the rest of this fiscal year.
With the board’s approval last week, unpaid leave days that had been set for April 15 and June 10 are no more, meaning employees won’t have to skip those days without pay and county offices go back to being open year-round, except for holidays.
“It’s a relief, to be honest,” said David Nix, supervisor of road right of way and utility coordinator for Hall’s engineering and public works department.
The furloughs “required some belt-tightening on everybody’s part, but ... during that economic downturn, it became part of our operation,” he said. “We weren’t alone, of course. Other counties were doing the same. ... You just had to adjust your life to accommodate that.
“It was kind of a mixed blessing because you had a day off in the middle of the week to take care of personal business when there wasn’t lines at the bank or anything of that nature.”
The county started imposing monthly furlough days in fiscal 2009, which began July 1, 2008, to cope with the economic downturn. A shrinking tax digest’s impact on revenues and other factors led to tense times in 2011, when the county faced an $11.5 million budget deficit.
In making ends meet in its fiscal 2012 budget, Hall ended up cutting park and library services. It also reduced funding for the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, which operates the Senior Life Center, Hall Area Transit, Meals on Wheels and other services.
The commissioners, now armed with a general fund balance of $14.9 million, voted Thursday to end the furloughs and to restart the county’s contribution to employee retirement.
Restoring the two furlough days will cost the county about $475,000. The retirement match will cost about $525,000, officials said.
Achieving the current fund balance “was due to some very conservative estimates in property taxes and (local option sales taxes),” County Administrator Randy Knighton said.
“Those came in over what we had projected and then our expenditures were lower than what we projected. And that’s a direct reflection of county staff being very prudent in how we handled finances.”
The fiscal 2013 budget contained three furlough days, including one that was taken on Nov. 21, the day before Thanksgiving.
Nix, who has worked overall for the county six years, said no furlough days should be a relief to the public as well.
“It’s frustrating when I’ve come by the office on a furlough day and citizens are trying to take care of their business and (aren’t) able to,” he said. “So, there’s benefits across the board.”
Looking ahead to fiscal 2014, Knighton said the county needs to continue “exhibiting a high level of discipline” financially.
“We need to keep monitoring expenditures and revenues,” he said. “At all times, we need excellent stewardship ... and always look at ways to cut our costs and make sure we are in line with our budget.”