Local Politics

Wake commissioners try to relieve budget woes

Posted January 31, 2009 4:56 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— The Wake County Board of Commissioners gathered Saturday to discuss how to deal with a projected $23 million deficit for this fiscal year and a smaller budget for the following year that begins July 1.

Wake County Manager David Cooke suggested delaying construction on the new Wake County Justice Center for another year.

“The revenue streams aren’t there to support the debt so we don’t want to incur the debt right now,” Cooke said at the retreat held at the Marbles Kids Museum.

Cooke also suggested delaying library projects and efforts to buy land for future parks until 2011.

“It’s incumbent on government to be making these same types of hard decisions that each family’s having to make out there,” Commissioner Joe Bryan said.

Cooke asked all department heads to outline how they would cut 10 percent from their budgets. Job cuts could include 34 positions in community services, 67 positions in human services and 121 positions at the Wake County Sheriff's Office. Wake County spokeswoman Sarah Williamson said most of the proposed job cuts are positions that are already vacant.

“We don’t need 10 percent across the board to balance next year’s budget, based on what we know right now, but we need to know what those options are,” Cooke said.

If the sheriff’s office cuts 10 percent from its budget, Sheriff Donnie Harrison said 61 deputies and 48 other employees, including detention officers and investigators, would be let go. The county’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement program would also be cut, Harrison said.

“We’re doing everything we can to keep from cutting personnel and I want my staff to understand that and the citizens of Wake County to understand that,” Harrison said.

Harrison said it would be a bad time to cut deputies. When the economy struggles, crime rises, he said.

“People don’t have jobs. You’re going to have stealing. You’re going to have break-ins. So we have to stay on the move. We have to have every resource we can,” Harrison said.

Commissioner Lindy Brown said she would not support raising property taxes, which could be a last resort.

“The citizens are already being hard hit,” Brown said.

Earlier forecasts predicted a $17 million shortfall in the 2008-2009 budget of $984 million, but officials announced on Monday that had grown.

Since November, county departments have cut their budgets by 4 percent and started to prepare for possible cuts of 10 percent in the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

The county has projected a budget $965 million for 2009-2010.

In other cost-cutting measures, the county implemented a hiring freeze, leaving 149 positions vacant. The Wake County School system, Wake Technical Community College and other programs returned a combined $6 million that they had been allocated.

Commissioners will meet Monday to vote on a revised budget that addresses the $23 million deficit.

Cooke will present his recommended 2010 budget to commissioners in May.