As the chairman and only full-time member of the Board of Commissioners, one of my biggest responsibilities each year is developing a budget for the following year.
Like any budget process, it involves tough decisions.
Planning for 2016 started last spring with a series of financial projections. Over the summer, each department calculated its own projections based on the expected cost of providing services to meet anticipated needs. Then in early fall, department directors presented business plans to my budget team, which included five citizen volunteers along with Finance department staff and the County Administrator. You can watch those presentations on demand on the County website.
It’s always about making choices—how to provide the most cost-effective services possible. As in most county governments, public safety is by far our biggest expense; the judicial system, sheriff’s office, jail operations, police, fire protection, and emergency services account for almost 75 percent of the costs within the tax operating funds.
For Gwinnett County in 2016, our other top priorities are retaining and recruiting the best possible employees, maintaining our financial sustainability, and doing our best to meet the most urgent community needs. It all adds up to about $1.5 billion.
As I write this, we are accepting public comments about the proposed budget with final adoption by the Board set for January 5. So there may be changes coming, but I’m glad to report that we should be able to restore some important services that were cut during the recession.
For example, we will add back some police positions, animal shelter staff, and parks maintenance workers. We will restore library funding to 88 percent of what it was in 2008. And we will improve services and facilities for our growing senior population.
We will add staff to our Juvenile and Recorder’s courts, to a Special Victims Unit for the District Attorney, and for a new ambulance unit in Fire and Emergency Services. And we will give County employees a performance-based four percent raise and reinstate longevity pay that was eliminated a few years back.
We will build a new Centerville Senior Center and finalize plans for an addition to the courthouse. A badly needed new morgue and medical examiner’s office are also in the works, and we are budgeting for police and sheriff body cameras. We also added an extra $7.2 million to cover additional poll locations and hours for early voting in the 2016 elections. We’ll need lots of poll workers next year, too.
Gwinnett always plans many years in advance and considers the future impacts of today’s decisions. I truly appreciate the citizen volunteers who listened to every spending proposal. Their recommendations and advice were invaluable.
I am also grateful to Gwinnett voters for supporting SPLOST programs that allow pay-as-you-go financing for capital improvements like fire stations, roads, parks and libraries, saving more than $1 billion in borrowing costs since 1985.
You can find more about the budget online at www.gwinnettcounty.com.