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Hall County Sheriffs office dodges budget cuts
Insurance, vehicle costs keep law agency funding intact
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After making it through a tough year, Hall County is charged with the task of planning for the worst and hoping for the best.

The fiscal year 2010 budget is marked with reductions based on low tax revenues, but officials predict the economy will rebound later this year.

The county had to make deep cuts when preparing the budget, which begins July 1. And while almost every department has reductions, the Hall County Sheriff’s Office has the sole increase in the new budget, an extra $274,400.

The Sheriff’s Office’s recommended budget for 2010 is $30.6 million, a 0.9 percent increase from $30.3 million in 2009.

Sheriff’s Col. Jeff Strickland said the increase was out of their hands.

"The majority of that $274,000 is all in the insurance increases," Strickland said. "We don’t control that; the county handles all of our insurance contracts and that’s just the cost of the insurance this year. We didn’t have any increases in there."

Strickland said further cuts to compensate for the higher insurance rates would affect public safety.

"Any more cuts to that budget is going to significantly impact the safety of the citizens of Hall County, because we would then begin to have to cut staff," Strickland said. "Already, due to the furlough, we’re losing approximately 4,000 man hours a month."

Hall County Administrator Charley Nix said Public Safety is the last area that the county will cut.

"I respect the sheriff and his staff, and I certainly trust that their contributions to this budget are the best they can do without getting to a place where you’re compromising public safety," Nix said.

Hall County will continue its one-day-per-month furloughs for all county employees to save costs in fiscal year 2010. The county will stop merit pay increases in 2010, but those awarded in 2009 must be paid in full.

"Each salary that went up was based on merit increases that happened in FY09, and so they had to be funded for a full year," said Carol Miller, finance director for the Sheriff’s Office.

Miller said the Sheriff’s Office has a number of other unique expenses, such as the jail and vehicle maintenance.

"If you think about our department, we have so many costs you can’t do away with such as inmate medical, which is a big portion, feeding the inmates and maintaining the vehicles," Miller said. "We haven’t replaced any vehicles in two years, so the cost of maintaining vehicles is pretty high."

Another area of public safety, Hall County Fire Services, made cuts in its operating costs. The department’s recommended budget for 2010 is $14.2 million, down 0.8 percent from $14.3 million in 2009.

"They cut their operating expenses," Hall County Finance Director Michaela Thompson said. "There’s no personnel that was cut in the fire fund. They did a almost a $200,000 reduction in their operational cost," "They just reviewed everything they had and made cuts across the board."

In other departments, 28 positions were eliminated.

Nix said layoffs came in departments that have faced less demand during the recession, including the Tax Commissioner’s Office, Building Inspection, Building Maintenance and Engineering.

Previously, about 70 percent of the county’s budget was dedicated to employment. By eliminating positions and continuing a hiring freeze and employee furloughs, the county was able to reduce the share of employee expenses on the total budget by 10 percent.