Bibb County commissioners shaved off more of their huge budget deficit Monday but seem increasingly worried that small, short-term cuts could turn out to be very costly.
Morning hearings focused on cutting costs in the judicial system, which commissioners feared could leave more people lingering in the county jail — where they each cost $55 a day.
“If you shift it off to the jail, you’re worse off than you were,” County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said.
Department heads told county commissioners how the system is already strained.
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State Court Judge William P. Adams said his department should have 2.55 judges but gets by with himself and help from a senior judge. The state court solicitor, Otis Scarbary, held up a 30-page printed list of people who want jury trials.
And District Attorney Howard Simms said he could be down two investigators and an attorney by the end of the year. He proposed getting rid of a phone tapping system that’s been effective, instead of making deeper staffing cuts.
“It’s put a lot of people in jail,” he said. “If I can put more people in the job, then that’s what I’ve got to do.”
Commissioner Lonzy Edwards, an attorney who has handled criminal cases, said such ideas don’t make sense.
“I think we have to look at every nickel, every dime we can save, but I think it’s a false economy if we give up on things like that,” he said.
County Finance Director Deborah Martin said that, through the end of Friday, revenue revisions and budget cuts had narrowed the budget gap to $15.2 million. The initial gap was $18.5 million, when the county projected a 19.5 percent cut in revenue, to $72.2 million, and expenses of $90.7 million.
The county’s acting technology director, Grant Faulkner, has succeeded in calling for memory upgrades for older computers and buying more expensive computers as replacements, which would last seven or eight years instead of most governments’ three- or four-year life expectancy for computers.
Monday, commissioners seemed to agree to eliminate a $500,000 subsidy to Lake Tobesofkee operations this year but fretted about whether maintenance cutbacks could prove costly.
Hart said earlier cuts have limited waste.
“Department heads seem to be making a good case for what they have,” Hart said.
Edwards said commissioners, like taxpayers, need to find a way to live within their means.
Hart said commissioners will continue budget hearings through Wednesday.
After that, they’ll have to find consensus on big ways to close the deficit, as through sizable tax increases, deep cuts or massive delays in spending.
Hart said commissioners’ only shared opinion so far is that the county needs to lay people off only as a last resort.
Today’s budget hearings begin at 9 a.m. with the fire department and end with the Department of Family and Children Services.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.