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County struggles to balance budget for fiscal year 2007

In the midst of working through a tight 2007 budget, McDuffie County government officials have taken the knife to some projects and turned down some employee raises.

McDuffie County Manager Don Norton told commissioners during last week's meeting that recent cuts and adjustments had lowered the budget overage from $200,000 to about $50,000. He said there was still some work left to be done.

County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton stated during the meeting that he would like the board to remain steadfast in holding off on a property taxes increase to balance the budget.

"(Commissioners) said 'Get it balanced' which we can do, I think, without the need for a millage increase," Mr. Norton said.

During the meeting, Tax Commissioner Sandra Whitaker asked commissioners for pay grade increases to reflect additional duties that her employees have taken on in recent years. In addition to few available funds, commissioners said the raises would be unfair unless they were made available to every department.

"Everybody tends to agree that if we're going to start doing that, we've got to do it across the board. You can't just pick and choose," Mr. Norton said. "...The Sheriff's Department has brought it up. There's no doubt the deputies need to be paid more, but where's it coming from?"

He added that cost of living increases have been added during the past three years, but a new salary study would need to be done before raises were tabulated. That may be at least two years away, he said. The last study was done in 2002.

"We've got to pay people a competitive wage, but we also hope that our employees will hang in there with us a little bit while we're trying to get through the lean times, so to speak," Mr. Norton said.

One thing that will help tweak the budget toward balancing is the pending retirement of Probate Judge Gene Wells who has been in that office for 18 years. His chief clerk Valerie Burley will start at a lower salary when she takes over as Probate Judge in January 2007, as will her replacement at clerk.

Public hearings on the proposed budget will be held on July 18 and 25. Mr. Norton said the 2007 budget should be adopted during the July 25 commission meeting.

Web posted on Thursday, June 29, 2006

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