Wake County budget worse than expected?

RALEIGH The new numbers show that in a best-case scenario, Wake County will fall $17.1 million short of its projected budget. In a worst-case scenario, that figure jumps to $28 million.

The shortfall arose during the current economic downturn and is blamed on a number of factors, notably a decline in sales tax revenue and a decline in the fees and taxes the county will receive tied to construction and building permits.

Some of the data included facts like Wake County single family home sales are down 38 percent if you compare 2007 to 2008. The median home sale price is down from $218,000 to $214,000, and new home construction permits have also fallen off dramatically.

Each Wake County department head has been asked to submit a plan to reduce his or her 2008-2009 operating budget by 4 percent to help meet this shortfall. Commissioners were expected to get the suggested cuts Monday afternoon, but no final decisions will be made right away.

If things don't get better, there's a chance all departments may have to trim next year's budgets (2009-2010) by 10 percent. County Manager David Cooke is still looking at how some money returned to the county will affect next year's budget. The Wake County School system and Wake Tech have each agreed to return 1.8 percent of their budgets to the county. For the schools, that figure was $5.7 million.

Four percent of each department's budget may not sound like a lot, but county leaders insist otherwise. Jeff Hammerstein with Wake County EMS, says a 4 percent cut could mean losing one ambulance on the road, likely lengthening response time countywide.

"Cutting the budget impacts service," Hammerstein said. "That's the bottom line."

Cutting that chunk out of the Wake County's CCBI budget would mean scaling back on all overtime. That, in turn, could lead to fewer investigator hours and longer jail bookings.

Over in Durham County, the picture is equally grim. County Manager Mike Ruffin says he's expecting a multi-million dollar shortfall as well.

He told Eyewitness News he's hesitant to place a dollar figure on the shortfall until early next year. Ruffin says he did institute a freeze beginning Monday on all unnecessary out-of-state travel by Durham County employees.

He has also asked all department heads to try and cut expenses in October with an eye on the second half of the 2008-2009 fiscal year.

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