Preparing a balanced proposed budget each year is one of my official duties as chairman of the Board of Commissioners. It’s a task I actually enjoy and one that I’ve trained for most of my life.
I’m writing this after unveil-ing my 2019 budget proposal in November but before the Board adopts the final budget at our first meeting in January. Both versions will likely total about $1.8 billion, so it’s a responsibility I do not take lightly.
Each year, I invite a group of Gwinnett residents with varied backgrounds to sit with me and our financial staff to hear our department directors plus elected and judicial officials report on their business plans and request funding changes in the next budget. And yes, sometimes they really do ask for less money!
The members of the budget review committee discuss their opinions and recommend appropriate funding levels. Then staff and I prepare a proposed budget, present it to the Board, hold a public hearing, and take comments through December. We also post related documents and videos on the County website.
At $1.39 billion, the proposed 2019 operating budget was up about 4.8 percent from 2018, mostly due to hiring and raises that we couldn’t afford during the recession. There’s another $438 million for capital improvements, which includes SPLOST-funded projects. Property taxes fund less than half of the operating budget.
This budget starts with base funding to maintain core services such as police and fire protection, jail, courts, roads, transit, and water. Then other requests are considered that reflect priorities set by the Board each spring. I’m proud of our tradition of conservative budgeting based on multi-year planning.
In every budget, we make it a point to maintain adequate reserves, use pay-as-you-go financing for capital improvements whenever it makes financial sense and set aside money for future obligations. This year we are adding more police officers in the community and sheriff’s deputies for the jail and the new courtrooms soon to be under construction at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. We are also adding positions for Fire and Emergency Services and funding to build a Georgia State Patrol Post 51.
Our “mobility and access” priority includes expanding transit and improving and maintaining roads and the airport. A “livability and comfort” priority funds libraries, senior programs, trails and greenways, park program expansion, and addressing homelessness.
We will attract jobs and investments with a new Water Innovation Center, reliable Infrastructure, and the 2040 Unified Plan. Our “education and outreach” priority includes new positions for Planning and Development and Community Services departments.
We continue to apply strong vetting practices to additional staffing, which has curtailed growth in employee numbers. Gwinnett’s population has grown by 22 per-cent since 2008 while County staff has increased just eight percent. And the value of all assessed property, called the tax digest, is finally back above its pre-recession level at $30.3 billion after hitting a low in 2013.
Public engagement is important to the functioning of local government. I invite you to review the entire budget online or in the Financial Services office at GJAC during business hours.