Hall County Slashes Budget To Avoid Shortfall

Updated:

A metro county is cutting jobs and slashing its budget in order to avoid an $11 million budget shortfall.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners downed a proposal to raise property taxes by 22 percent, then approved a second plan to slash more than 20 jobs and cut $10.7 million in funding.

Highlights of the plan include:

-Laying off 20 public works employees.

-Every county department to cut its budget 5 percent.

-All funding for the county employee retirement plan is cut.

-Four county parks will be closed.

-County fees will be increased in several areas.

Several departments were particularly hit hard.

The county's Community Services Center budget was slashed by $120,000. The entire budget for the Hall County DFACS was cut. The Sheriff's Office overtime budget was cut by $500,000. Parks and Rec lost $1 million in funding, and libraries were cut by $445,000.

Commissioners said the cuts had to be done before the new budget went into effect at midnight.

More than three dozen residents spoke out in a public hearing before the vote. Some like Beatrice Hailey rallied to save the programs they used the most. In her case, it's the Community Services Center.

"I've been a member at the center for 21 years," she said.

One woman came to the mic and told commissioners, "You're not going to close my parks."

But several people also blasted efforts to raise county property taxes, saying the burden was already too great.

One man put it this way. "You sucked and sucked money from me and I'm tired of it, and I want you out of my pockets."

Commissioners apparently listened, and shortly after the public hearing voted down the tax hike plan.

County employees say that they are taking the brunt of the pain.

Cliff Kelly cried as he spoke to the commission. "I'm sorry for the tears, but I hurt inside for the men and the young lady that got laid off."

Last week, Hall County laid off 56 workers. Those were in addition to the 25 positions cut Thursday night. Twenty of the positions are in the county's public works department where Commissioner Ashley Bell said he has a plan to compensate.

"We are definitely going to see a tremendous downsize in public works. But we are going to fix that by taking our SPLOST dollars and turn it over to the private sector," he said after the meeting.

At least two commissioners warn the pain might not be over. They say they expect next year's budget news to be even worse than the one they just finished.