Lee County departments ask for freeze relief - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Lee County departments ask for freeze relief

February 14, 2007

Lee County--  One of the solutions Lee County leaders came up with to deal with a budget shortfall is causing a shortfall in some departments.  Commissioners enacted a hiring freeze. The Clerk of Superior Court and the Chief Magistrate Judge recently asked commissioners to fill positions in their departments because of heavy work loads but those aren't the only departments that need relief.

Lee County Public Works crews take care of everything from repairs to raging water and right now that work load is extra heavy.

"We're asking these guys to do the work of two people," said Assistant Public Works Director Mike Sistrunk. That's because there are three vacancies in the Public Works Department.  They need a truck driver, a tractor operator and an Animal Control Officer. A tractor operator even had to be pulled to Animal Control duties to handle the dozens of calls.

"It's just one of those things and Public Works just deals with it," said Sistrunk.

Assistant Public Works Director Mike Sistrunk says the department is making do with what they have.  However, it's changed both how and how fast they do business.

"It just slows us down a little bit where we have to prioritize our calls and how they come," said Sistrunk. The need for Public Works to prioritize comes from a hiring freeze set by Lee County commissioners in November.

"The reason for that was to try to save money where we can to help save money for this year," said Lee County Administrator Alan Ours. Ours says the county had to look at every possible way to save money but admits the freeze is causing a crunch.

"It had effects on departments naturally. A lot of employees have had to increase their work load," said Ours. By the county not paying for about 10 vacant positions, that saved money will help offset the budget deficit.  At least that's the hope.

"At this point, we remain hopeful that we will finish this year in the black but yet it's still a little too early to tell," said Ours. For now, Ours continues to ask departments to be patient until the whole budget issue is worked out.

"We're all in this together and we need to work through it together and hopefully next budget year the proper funding will be in place," said Ours.

"We understand. It's all money and we understand money," said Sistrunk.

The Public Works Department understands the freeze but they look forward to when it's finally lifted. "I would love for that to happen and I would love to see our employees compensated for the work they do," said Sistrunk.

Until then, the work will continue in the county but only time and money will tell how heavy that work will continue to be.

The freeze could be lifted after this fiscal year which ends in June.  The hold on hiring does not apply to public safety positions. Commissioners will take the Superior and Magistrate Court requests under advisement and consider them at their next meeting on February 27th.

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