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Layoffs lead to empty offices in Hall
Several government departments going without receptionists
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The look of the county's Development Services building is not unlike the sight of a man recently shrunken whose clothes are still the same size.

The building — home to officials who deal with business licenses, planning and zoning, building inspections, environmental health and mapping for the county — has fewer employees than it did two months ago.

After budget decisions made in late June, nearly 15 people disappeared from its hallways.

A room once home to a soil erosion specialist, like many of the offices in Development Services, is empty except for a computer monitor on the floor beside a phone book and a stack of folders.

It doesn't take long for a visitor to recognize the changes.

The building's receptionist has been replaced by a bulletin board directing visitors to the office of the
official they need.

No longer able to afford a receptionist, county officials have set up an automated phone system to guide callers to the office.

"I thought it was weird when I first came in," said Taylor Corry, an 18-year-old Dacula resident who came to Hall County last week to get permits for Build Your Own Pool of Georgia, where she works.

Corry travels across the region getting permits from various county development offices. All the others, she said, have receptionists.

The rhetoric behind cutting employees from the county's planning and inspections department was that a recessed housing industry reduced the demand on the related permitting officials; thus, if there was little development, fewer people were needed to review plans.

While it's true there are fewer developers entering with plans for new housing, the everyday residents' needs — to have a plat recorded or to gather zoning information — haven't changed, said Randy Knighton, county administrator and former planning director.

And though most in the development industry know where to go for the needed permits for construction, many residents might be walking in the office for the first time.

"You still get the same walk-in traffic ... we just don't have a receptionist," said Lamar Carver, the inspections services manager for the building inspections department.

Since the layoffs over the summer, Carver said his job has expanded from running the department to performing building inspections and reviewing plans. His secretary, too, has become a sort of receptionist, just by virtue of her desk's location.

"I'm the first one you see when you come in," said Peggy Pierce, Carver's secretary and a permit technician.

Pierce holds out hope that the building will again be fully staffed.

The building may get new workers in the coming months, though it likely won't be because of a reinflated budget.

Layoffs across the county — and the empty offices left behind — have the government's top administrators rethinking its building inventory.

"It doesn't make sense to have all these half-filled buildings," said Assistant County Administrator Marty Nix.

Nix says he and Knighton have been meeting to devise a plan to best distribute staff throughout county-owned buildings. Knighton says the officials aren't near a final plan, but it likely will mean shifting departments.

In the meantime, Pierce and Carver say residents and those left working inside the Development Services building are adapting to the current reality.

"(Life) continues, but not exactly as it used to," said Carver. "... The workload is less, but the workforce is a whole lot less."