Beaufort County might reduce its workforce by more than 5 percent by eliminating 50 vacant positions later this year.
County administrator Gary Kubic says the cuts would free nearly $2.4 million in the 2013-14 budget, which is still being developed by county staff. The spending plan, which takes effect July 1, will be released later this month.
The savings couldn't come at a better time.
County officials have already calculated nearly $11.8 million in funding requests for next year from outside agencies, department heads or members of County Council.
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Proposals include $500,000 to expand library hours from 40 to 60 a week, $350,000 to add two new EMS crews on both sides of the county and $190,000 to bolster courtroom security.
Other possibilities include a 2-percent cost-of-living adjustment for county workers that would cost $1.2 million, $125,000 to equip all county ambulances with special CPR machines and nearly $2.9 million for new county vehicles and public works equipment.
Meanwhile, county staff is proposing about $6 million in capital expenditures on projects that include replacing roofs, air-conditioning units and locks at the Beaufort County Detention Center. Those purchases, if approved, probably will be covered by borrowing.
The current county budget, which expires June 30, totals $97.1 million.
Kubic, who this week proposed cutting the vacant positions, now needs County Council to determine which programs should be funded and which can wait until next year. He hopes the prospect of $2.4 million in available money will get that conversation started.
"What we are saying is, if we (don't) fund the 50 positions ... you then provide the opportunity to reallocate those wages and benefits to other uses," Kubic said.
In addition to the $2.4 million in labor savings, the county can generate up to $2.7 million by raising property taxes to the state cap, according to county documents. Kubic said he included that figure to inform the council and is not advocating a tax hike.
Beaufort County has 952 full-time positions included in the current budget that ends June 30. The proposal would eliminate 50 of 61 vacant jobs.
While no decisions have been made about which positions should go, Kubic said department heads are not among those that would be lost. The county is looking for a director of Parks and Leisure Services and an airports director.
Councilman Jerry Stewart says eliminating the positions has been an ongoing process.
"In reality, we have been doing that for the last couple of years," he said. "That is not something that is new. The only thing new is he is planning to just eliminate those positions, period, instead of carrying (them over) on (the) books and just not hiring for them."
Although the positions have gone unfilled, the county's budget still accounts for them and includes funding for salaries and benefits. By eliminating them from the budget, the county no longer needs to allocate that money.
"When you are talking about saving money, it goes straight to head count," Council Chairman Paul Sommerville said. "That is where the majority of our money is spent."
Council could begin discussing spending priorities Monday. It is expected to begin reviewing the proposed 2013-14 budget this month, with final approval expected in late June.