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Birrell Town Hall Addresses Safety Cuts

Cobb County Police Chief John Houser, Fire Chief Sam Heaton, Commissioner JoAnn Birrell and Commission Chairman Tim Lee explained how furloughs and cuts in public service have affected public safety.

Reductions in the county's public safety budget raised plenty of concerns with residents at Commissioner JoAnn Birrell's town-hall meeting Thursday. 

The Mountain View Community Center was crowded with county officials and residents eager to discuss public safety cuts, the budget and solutions.

and talked about how the cuts and furloughs are affecting services.

Regarding the 600 police officers furloughed, Houser said: "The furloughs are having some impact, but we're there for you. If this goes into 2012, I am concerned about being able to sustain this. Short term is one thing, but long term is another. We've looked at a number of things, if this continues, that we may have to eliminate, and that would be certain calls for service. We don't want to do that."

Asked whether furloughs affect response times to fire calls, Heaton said: "We can call Sandy Springs, Smyrna, Austell and the city of Marietta fire departments for assistance if necessary. We work closely with them and provide them assistance as well."

Lee said a millage increase is something commissioners will consider to end the furloughs, which the as part of its progress report Wednesday.

In response to a question to Houser about whether the furloughs will continue into next year, Lee said: "The five commissioners decide whether or not the furloughs will continue into the next year, what tactics we'll use, and so on. We'll adopt a budget in August for the period that starts Oct. 1. Several plans are being evaluated for next year's budget. Tuesday at 3 p.m. I'll review those with finance."

Lee said he meets regularly with police and fire officials to ensure that the furloughs don't harm the community.

Laughter erupted when Lee said, "We can slide into becoming DeKalb or turn our county around. I don't want to be known as the Bill Campbell of Cobb County. Issues will not be swept under the rug for the next administration."

County commissioners must approve the budget for fiscal 2012 in September for the year that begins Oct. 1.

Also at the meeting, Cobb Department of Transportation officials talked about road and transit subjects, and the Friends of Mabry Park provided information about the for the Northeast Cobb park.

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