The impact of 2008s economic downturn took its toll on Dawson County, in the housing market, local governments, retail industry and leisurely activities.
Reported year after year as one of the best places to live, work and play, Dawson County was hit like other counties in North Georgia in 2008 as businesses closed or laid off workers, shoppers stopped driving to shop the outlets and a flourishing housing market plummeted.
Builders now say they believe the residential building is at a standstill and will be for several years as the homes that are currently available wait to be sold.
A number of local builders, with completed homes or partially finished subdivisions, were foreclosed on by the banks that financed the operations just months before. Gold Creek Gold Club also closed and filed for bankruptcy.
“We’ve got a tough stretch ahead of us,” said Rory Cunningham, president of the Dawson County Homebuilders Association, who predicted no improvement within the next 12 months.
A number of businesses in and around Dawson County dependent on housing began to layoff workers in the last several months.
Carpet giant Mohawk announced in April it would close its yarn plant in Dahlonega, sending 366 people, including several from Dawson County, to the unemployment line.
An additional 13 employees were offered transfers or lost their jobs when 84 Lumber closed its Dawsonville lumberyard in late October.
Other areas of the local economy also felt the pinch as well in 2008.
Nordson Corporation, one of Dawson County’s largest employers, recently underwent a massive early retirement process and transferred several local operations to the Johns Creek area. Jim Jaye, director of communications at Nordson’s Ohio headquarters, could not confirm the number of employees at the Dawsonville location that were released, although he said the moves were planned even before the economic downturn occurred.
Ernie Elliott Inc., one of the highest paying companies in the county, also let go several employees at the end of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
The more local businesses that close, “The more citizens have to pay a greater share of the taxes, at a time when the residents cannot afford to take on a greater tax burden,” said Charlie Auvermann, executive director of the Development Authority of Dawson County.
Local and state governments, faced with declining sales tax collection and revenue, looked for ways to cutback. While Dawson County and the city of Dawsonville have not had to resort to layoffs, both entities have scaled back in an effort to save taxpayer dollars.
“We have vacant positions that we’ve not filled and are looking at more ways we can save,” said Dawson County Manager Kevin Tanner, who, along with his staff, has eliminated close to $200,000 in costs to the county since he was hired in April.
Dawsonville City Clerk Kim Cornelison said the city has also left vacant positions open in light of the staggering economy and, like Dawson County, which plans to cut about $2.2 million from its budget in 2009, opted for a much leaner budget for the coming year.
Down more than $500,000 from 2008’s budget, Cornelison’s proposed 2009 budget, at approximately $2.8 million, does not include any new hires or additional services offered.
While both the city and the county must tighten their budgets, neither plans to cut services. If additional cuts are warranted, Cornelison said the cuts would be made to the general funds budget, rather than enterprise funds, which includes services such as water, sewer and garbage.
Tanner said the county is looking at every option to avoid cutting services, including renovations to current county owned buildings to house county offices.
Dawson County will see approximately $100,000 in savings in 2009 after moving several county offices out of rented space.
The county has also identified numerous savings in salaries and retirement contributions to save taxpayer dollars, including the delay of cost of living raises for employees, Tanner said.
“What we don’t want to do is give cost of living raises to some employees while eliminating others,” said Tanner, who added employees “would be taken care of” with cost of living raises as soon as financially possible.
Employee merit raises will remain for employees that exhibit the highest standards of work, he said.
“All in all, we’re in better shape financially than many of our neighboring counties,” Tanner said, adding Forsyth County has terminated almost 30 employees within the last month and Hall County requires all employees to furlough one day each month.
Even facing economic woes, Dawson County was recognized twice by state agencies as one of the best places to live in Georgia, first as the eleventh fastest growing county in the state and last week as the tenth most prosperous of the 159 counties.
Auvermann said the county must continue to move forward from an economic development standpoint to improve its quality of life.
On the upside, several local companies have used the downturn to gear up and expand.
“We (the development authority) have supported those efforts and will continue to do so,” Auvermann said. “There are a number of local companies that are taking advantage of these times and everyone should support their efforts to remain in our county, and grow in our county,” he said.
“People need to understand that the economy will not suddenly get better overnight. It will improve over time,” Auvermann said.
E-mail Michele Hester at email@example.com.