"It will require difficult decisions to achieve this goal and we are requesting your cooperation and insight to meet this challenge," he wrote.
"We've not mandated anything," Commissioner David Keller said Tuesday. The county is not calling for furloughs or reducing employee hours to hit the mark, he said.
"Managers will make the decisions," Keller said. They have been asked to "work with your people and tell us how you're going to get there," he said.
Register and Recorder Linda Miller said she made a change that should meet the goal -- eliminating a contracted data storage and imaging service and doing the work in-house. One manager said eliminating all his non-personnel expenses would still fall short of the 8 percent goal.
The board members said the cuts are not driven by any impending deficit in the county's 2009 budget. The commissioners said local revenue projections are on target, but the outlook for state and federal funding is cloudy.
"When the governor and state legislature tighten their belts, it's the counties that have to stop eating," said Commissioner Bob Ziobrowski. "We're at the end of the food chain here."
"This is not driven by the state budget," Keller said of the 8 percent figure. That was based on what local governments, businesses and families are having to deal with in the recession.
However, Keller said, the state budget "is further evidence of why we are doing what we're doing." Measures adopted this year could carry over into 2010 and 2011, he said.
The proposed $26.6 billion state budget for 2009-10 is far from a finished product and assumes $3.5 billion in federal bailout funds to balance it and the current year's operating deficit. Much of the county's $115 million budget comes from state and federal subsidies, while the $40 million general fund relies on the 21.55-mill county property tax for three-quarters of its income.
That leaves the county little room for tax hikes before hitting the state cap of 25 mills. Any increase above that requires court approval.
Thomas said other issues are driving the move: Increased contributions to a pension fund hit by stock market losses; required changes in funding the retiree health care plan; and the loss of land line fees for the 911 center as people switch to cell phones.
"It's things like that that are piling up on this county and other counties across Pennsylvania," Thomas said.