Lee county planners have released their ideas for balancing the budget for the coming year. They are recommending 10-days of mandatory, un-paid furloughs for every employee, plus workers kicking in more money for their health insurance.
"We have the most challenging economic times we have seen in our lifetimes," said Lee Commissioner Frank Mann. "It is troubling and sad."
Budget planners also recommend dipping into reserves to help balance the budget, which could have a shortfall of 60 million dollars. They also suggest closing the permitting department on Fridays, and allowing employees to go from full to part-time. There is no call for a tax hike, although there are several references to tax increases as ways to make up for lost revenue from sharply declining property values.
"I for one will not raise taxes on people who have no jobs, or people who are making less than they did 3 years ago," said Mann. "I believe we should have pay cuts, roll-backs, across the board. That would save jobs and save millions. After all, our employees benefitted during the good years, we often gave raises of 6 percent a year. Now, we have to give back, just as governments are doing all over the area."
Mann said he has asked the budget planners to calculate the savings for pay roll-backs for the 2000 employees under the control of the county manager, and thus, under control of the commissioners.
Mann also repeated his warnings about continued raiding of the reserve funds. "If we do this for two more years, we will have a financial train wreck in this county. We will have no reserves. We cannot leave a county like Lee, vulnerable, with no reserves. We cannot let that happen," Mann told reporters in his office on Thursday.
WINK News talked with one Lee Co. tax-payer, Neville Barrett. He said pay cuts might be better than lay-offs. "That way, people who work for the county keep their jobs. They keep paying taxes. Otherwise, they will be forced out of their homes through foreclosure," said Barrett. "That just makes things worse."
Commissioners will work up the budget and start making some difficult decisions next Monday at budget workshop.