To help meet a $21 million budget shortfall, New Hanover County offered employees early retirement, laid others off, and issued mandatory furlough days. While the cuts helped balance the budget, county residents might still end up '”paying”. “On one hand you save money because people are not coming to work, but what you've done is you've reduced your workforce by 4 percent,” explained New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield. The New Hanover County government has seen significant staff reductions, in order to meet budget shortfalls. While the budget remains balanced, the cuts have placed added pressure on remaining employees. Director of Development Services Tony Roberts said, “It raises stress levels a little bit, in trying to accomplish our goals.” This year, the county required ten unpaid days off for each employee. To try and maintain services, the county combined several departments. “911 services and emergency management services now work under one director, that's been merged into a single department,” explained Director of Human Resources and Community Relations Dennis Inhat. “Planning and inspections are now under one department head.” The economy eased the pressure on some of the mergers, but caused extra stress for other departments. “The human needs or the human services portion of county government are hardest hit with demand from the public, but they have lost quite a few people working in their departments,” added Barfield. For county residents, it can mean longer wait times for services they desperately need. Barfield said the county has trimmed all it's fat, but will again face a shortfall in next year's budget. “I don't see any way around our next budget cycle not having some type of a tax increase one way or the other.” Leaving voters to decide whether to cut more services, or pay more for the ones they already have. Barfield said the county will probably need both a sales tax increase and a property tax increase to avoid future service cuts or lay-offs, but voters would have to approve those increases first. Commissioner Barfield spoke very candidly about the state of the county's financial situation. You can view the unedited interview here.
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