Beaufort County could avoid a tax increase in the next fiscal year, but it will require cutting the equivalent of 40 to 60 salaried positions, according to county officials.
That draw down would hopefully occur by holding some positions open and consolidating others as employees retire or move on to other jobs, county administrator Gary Kubic said.
However, it could require more extreme measures next year, such as furloughs or layoffs, if the county cannot recoup the equivalent of the salaries of at least 40 employees through such reorganization, county officials have said.
"A lot of (this year's budget) is dependent on things I can't control, and the one thing I can control is layoffs," Kubic said. "However, I would prefer to measure every month, from July forward going into next year's budget process, whether rate of attrition is going to meet the challenge we have chosen in fiscal year 2015 before those decisions are made."
Beaufort County Council will discuss the budget with county leaders at 2 p.m. today at Building 3 of the Beaufort Industrial Village at 102 Industrial Village Road in Beaufort.
The county has reduced its budget by $8 million since the economic downturn in 2008, which makes it harder to find fat to cut now, Kubic said.
Staffing costs are by far the county's largest expense, so it becomes the natural target for reducing spending, he said.
"It's all about staff, it's all about the salary, and it poses quite a challenge," Kubic said.
The next budget also must reflect an increase of about $1.6 million in the cost of health insurance, workers' compensation and retirement benefits for county employees, he added.
In combination with the decline in property values following last year's reassessment, this year's budget is the most challenging the county has faced since the downturn, deputy county administrator Bryan Hill said.
However, cutting staff does have it's limits, council members Rick Caporale and Bill McBride cautioned. At some point, cutting staff renders county services ineffective, they said.
"It's the fact that we haven't broken the system yet that gives people some level of courage that we can cut some more," Caporale said. "But eventually we are going to break it. I don't know if we have yet, and I don't know what the signs are going to be ... but I think we're getting close."
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.