In this – my second column for the Gwinnett Citizen – I’ll talk a bit about why I enjoy serving you as a leader in our county government. We’ve faced significant challenges in recent years, but local residents and County staff met all them head-on, and I’m proud to say that success still lives here.
As you probably know, Gwinnett County provides and maintains much of the basic infrastructure and services we all need as we go about our daily lives. That includes obvious physical facilities we use every day like water, sewer and roads but it also includes other things we often take for granted like parks, courtrooms, the jail, fire and emergency medical protection, disaster management, planning, zoning, sanitation and code enforcement.
The complexity of providing services has increased recently, as property owners probably noticed on their tax bills this year. To settle the dispute with the cities, Gwinnett County now is providing services differently to the areas within municipalities.
Only 72,000 people lived here in 1970, while today about 842,000 people call Gwinnett County home. Our demographics are very different now, too. We’re much more diverse, with a higher percentage of seniors – and we have higher expectations for the basic services that County government provides.
Remember when there were no county parks. The first one was Best Friend Park, developed with grant funds in the 1970s. Today, we have a national award-winning system of nearly four dozen parks. We’ve preserved thousands of acres of greenspace and built numerous athletic fields and recreation facilities using SPLOST sales tax program funds. Our schools and libraries have also won national recognition.
On the economic development front, there have been successes as well. CNN Money Magazine recently put Gwinnett County ninth on a list of the top 25 counties nationally for “Where the jobs are.” They noted the expansion of local firms like Mitsubishi Electric Heating and Cooling and Primerica, Inc. as well as companies relocating to Gwinnett and the 600 international firms with facilities here. Partnership Gwinnett has helped lead the economic development effort. We have seen thousands of jobs in the past few years, and we continue to have the lowest unemployment rate among the core metropolitan Atlanta counties.
Financially, we’ve kept our debt levels low and our credit ratings high for almost two decades. We’ve cut costs and balanced the budget. We’re now using energy from wastewater gas to make heat and electricity for our state-of-the-art water reclamation plant. We’ve retired smaller, inefficient plants and upgraded water and sewer lines throughout our 437 square miles.
Before I became an elected official, I spent 28 years helping manage the County’s finances. I’ve always enjoyed dealing with numerical detail. My work now involves dealing with people as well as numbers, and that’s an even more exciting challenge. I know I can’t keep everyone happy but as long as we keep talking – and listening – to each other, I’m confident we can find common ground and common-sense solutions.
Then comes the best part – celebrating our successes together!