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City votes to extend furloughs
Council contracts with county to run election
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    In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Statesboro city council voted to continue with the employee furlough program through the first fiscal of quarter of 2010, which ends Sept. 30.
    City Manager Shane Haynes said the city is facing lagging revenues with static or rising expenses making it increasingly difficult to balance the city budget and not dip into the general fund.
    “It’s not an easy decision,” Haynes said. “It’s something we’ve talked about at great length over the past couple of months at department head meetings and at the budget retreat with the council.”
    Despite initial resistance from some of the employees, Haynes said staff members have come to realize the economic situation the city is currently facing.
    “I want to say without question that our employees have been great to understand. No one is excited about having to give up part of their salary, but across the board with all of our employees, we’ve noted a sense of everyone giving up a little bit for the greater good,” Haynes said. “They understand that the short term negative is to overcome a potential longer term negative and to keep people whole in their jobs.
    “Our best resource is our people — and I really mean that. They’re the folks that make things happen,” Haynes said. “But from a bottom line perspective, our salaries and benefits is our largest expense at the city.”
    The furloughs, which are unpaid days off from work, started in April. City employees making more than $60,000 annually are required to take one unpaid day off from work each month, while those making under $60,000 are required to take a half day. According to estimates, the furlough program will save the city $70,000 per fiscal quarter.
    In addition to furloughs, the city has reduced or eliminated merit increases, cost of living increases, training, travel, equipment purchases and capital project spending. Haynes said the city is only spending money on three capital projects, but will spend $75,000 or less on each of those projects.
    The downtown streetscape project, which started in late May, is being funded primarily by a Georgia Department of Transportation grant. The balance of the cost of the project is coming from the city’s portion of special local option sales tax, or SPLOST, funds.
    Haynes said the city has had to dip into the general fund in the past to cover unforeseen expenses and that his financial advisers have recommended that, for the fiscal health of the city, that practice discontinue unless absolutely necessary.
    “Over the past two or three fiscal years, the city has seen a decline in its (general) fund balance meaning that to correct the deficiency between revenues and expenses, (the city) had to use the fund balance to make up the difference,” Haynes said. “Our finance department, finance director and our auditors have encouraged us to take a hard line approach and not go into the general fund balance this fiscal year. In order to do that, we have to be very careful about the monies we do expend.”
    The council also unanimously passed an agreement that would contract with Bulloch County election officials to run the upcoming Statesboro city council and mayoral elections. Haynes said he sees value in the agreement.
    “I see it as a positive. We want to be transparent in government her at the city in everything that we do. From my perspective, it just prevents the feeling by candidates that are running that certain employees have allegiances to certain candidates or officials — we don’t want to get involved in that,” Haynes said. “I’m not suggesting that that was going on. It just prevents us from being put in that position as city staff members.”
    With former city clerk Judy McCorkle’s employment status in question, there is currently no one on city staff qualified to run the election.
    “I feel confident that the county election staff – this is what they do and they’re very familiar with Statesboro — I see it as a seamless transition to have them run elections for the city,” Haynes said.
    City elections will operate just as they have in the past without a change to the election day polling places. However, early voting will take place at the voter registrar’s office in the county courthouse instead of in the lobby of city hall.
    The mayor’s seat and seats in Districts 1 and 4 – currently held by Tommy Blitch and Joe Brannen – are up for election this November. Candidate qualifying starts at the end of August.
    Phil Boyum may be reached at (912) 489-9454.
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