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County Finds More Cost Savings

Holding vacant jobs open for 90 days before filling them to save county $2.2 million. Officials also considering unpaid holidays and other measures.

The Gwinnett County Commission voted Feb. 22 to require all vacant jobs be held open for a minimum of 90 days. The commission’s action, which extends a general hiring freeze that has been in place since August 2008, is expected to save the county at least $2.2 million this year. Gwinnett County currently has 210 vacant positions funded for the 2011 fiscal year. New vacancies would result in further savings.

The commission’s action is part of an ongoing effort to close an , according to an announcement by Gwinnett County. About $1.8 million of the projected savings will occur in the general fund. With those steps, the .

The 90-day hiring freeze allows county department directors and managers to re-examine the need to fill vacant positions and determine whether the work could be reassigned to other employees.

“These challenging economic times have presented those of us in government a tremendous opportunity to more closely examine our priorities and to find new ways to innovate with the goal of becoming a more efficient, more effective organization,” Gwinnett County Administrator Glenn Stephens stated in the announcement.

“These are difficult times,” said Commission Vice Chair Shirley Lasseter in the announcement. “Gwinnett County families and businesses are having to tighten their belts and do more with less. County government can be no different.”

“At the same time,” she continued, “we cannot and will not compromise the county’s ability to deliver essential public services that the people of Gwinnett County expect and depend upon. Since 2008, we have reduced the county’s overall workforce through reductions in force, retirement incentives, and the elimination of certain vacant positions. We want to continue reducing our workforce where it makes sense, but we do not want to cripple our operations or undermine our ability to meet the public’s needs. This approach gives us a mechanism to encourage department directors to evaluate, over a finite period of time, whether vacant positions are needed before seeking to refill them.”

The resolution passed by the commission gives Stephens the authority to grant exceptions to the 90-day hold period. “We recognize there will be times and situations where it will be necessary and in the larger public interest to go ahead and fill a vacancy immediately,” Lasseter said.

The county announced Friday that it is also considering making four holidays unpaid furlough days for county workers to help eliminate the county's  budget deficit.

According to officials, converting Independence Day, Labor Day, the Friday after Thanksgiving, and Christmas Eve to unpaid furlough days would save about $2.8 million, and that all measures being considered would leave Gwinnett about $2.6 million short of covering its general fund shortfall.

The commissioners will consider the measures at the March 1 meeting.

Other measures under consideration by the county:

-- Reducing contributions to its Risk Management and Workers Compensation funds and its Fleet/Equipment Capital Project Fund.

-- Eliminating seven vacant positions, the ad budget for vacant positions, and cutting part-time salaries in the police department.

-- Paying off a 2002 general obligation bond and redirecting the .23 mill tax levy that had been servicing that debt toward general operations.

“In this time of severe economic challenges on the national and local levels, we can’t solve these problems without reducing our number one cost, which is personnel,” Commission Vice Chair Shirley Lasseter said.

Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway expressed support. "I understand the county's serious financial situation and support the implementation of employee furlough days as a way of cutting expenses.

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