The money stream that nearly dried up last year for local governments likely will remain arid in 2010.
Sales tax revenues dwindled by more than 5 percent last year, recently leading Columbia County commissioners to announce a plan to slash the 2010-11 budget by 5 percent.
The search for savings starts this month as county department heads and division directors sift through their budgets looking for cuts. Those cuts might include eliminating programs or positions, hiring freezes, outsourcing some services and deferring capital expenditures.
During the past two years, the county's $56.5 million budget was trimmed by more than $500,000 by eliminating 10 positions.
Commissioners likely will adopt the slimmed-down budget in June.
School officials also expect to make some budget cuts, but they don't know yet by how much.
"Until (state) legislators meet in January and the economy picks up, we are at a standstill with any planning other than school as usual," Superintendent Charles Nagle wrote in an e-mail. "My immediate concern is building next year's budget. And again, we are at the mercy of the governor and legislators."
Nagle told state lawmakers last month that any more state cuts will directly affect instruction. The system has already lost $13.8 million in state funding.
Were it not for $5.7 million in federal stimulus funds, instruction already would be affected, Nagle said.
State Rep. Ben Harbin, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, warned county officials in November that legislators are looking to trim $350 million from the budget. Those estimates rose to $700 million last month. Gov. Sonny Perdue already has slashed the budget by about $900 million to counteract dwindling tax revenues.
Though lawmakers told school officials they have not discussed more teacher furloughs, the school board recently changed the second-semester calendar to give teachers Monday off. The new school semester starts Tuesday, but teachers typically arrive a day early to prepare for pupils' return.
If Perdue requires more furloughs, Nagle said he intends to use Jan. 4 to cover at least one of those days.
Grovetown officials hope to avoid any more budget cuts this year.
Like the county, Grovetown suffered a drop in sales tax revenues, from 9 percent in 2008 to 8.25 percent last year. Though revenues were down, the demand for city services increased as the population grew, said City Manager Shirley Beasley.
To offset the loses, the city council approved a hiring freeze and raised taxes last year.
Those decisions likely will prevent any new tax increases for this year and halt any cuts in city services, Beasley said.
Harlem city officials also expect to maintain service levels despite a projected 2010 budget that is more than $500,000 less than the current $3.6 million budget.
"The city worked to keep expenses at a minimum and at the present time has been able to provide the same level of services to its citizens as in the past," City Manager Jean Dove said.
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