Early retirement and week furloughs could be parts of the plan.

    Kent County is a bit closer to closing the approximate $1.6 million deficit for the current budget year after whittling down the cost-savings options during a recent retreat.

    Though still in the discussion phase, Levy Court Commissioner Bradley Eaby, who chairs the county’s finance committee, said the gap largely could be filled by a combination of mandatory week furloughs for county employees, taking money out of the agricultural land preservation fund and transferring money out of reserves.

    “We tried to look at things that would affect everybody and not just some,” Eaby said.

    The overall savings would add up to $100,000 from furloughs taken before the end of June, $700,000 moved out of the agricultural land preservation fund and $1.3 million transferred from reserves.

    In the county’s January newsletter, County Administrator Michael Petit de Mange released 11 areas where the county was looking to make reductions to close the $1.6 million gap. These included possible shorter workweeks, greater employee contributions to health care insurance, pay freezes and a stop to cost of living increases, to name a few.

    Early retirement packages also are a major part of county cost-savings but how much could be saved depends on how many employees take the option, Eaby said. Additional savings would be found by not filling vacant positions left by employees taking a buy-out or by hiring someone at a lower or entry-level position to fill them, he said.

    Eaby said he expects the 2009 budget recommendations to reach committee sometime in February.

    The current $1.6 million deficit sets the stage for an anticipated $3 million shortfall projected for the 2010 budget.

    A similar plan of reducing the workforce through attrition and early retirement, freezing pay raises, increased employee health care costs and transferring money from reserves is under consideration to reduce the 2010 budget shortfall.

    Also under consideration is an increase in the county tax from 3 to 6 cents for residents.

    “A tax increase at the moment is part of this blended approach of staff contributions to reduce costs, taking money from reserves to reduce our expenses and, then on the revenue side, a tax increase,” Eaby said. “We’re doing everything we can do to avoid it but at the moment it looks like it has a real possibility if all the numbers are going to play out … it’s certainly still in the mix.”

    With a 6-cent increase, Eaby estimated the county would raise approximately $1.8 million in revenue. The current tax rate is 25 cents per $100 of assessed property value. A home assessed at $100,000 would have an increase of $60 a year for a total tax package of $310.

    Eaby said he expects the 2010 preliminary budget to be presented for review late February or March.

Email Melissa Steele at melissa.steele@doverpost.com.