One of my biggest responsibilities as chairman of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners is to work with County staff to develop the annual Gwinnett County budget.
A $1.83 billion proposed budget for 2020 was presented to the District Commissioners and the public in November and made available for discussion and comment throughout the month of December. By the time you read this column, the board will have officially adopted the 2020 budget on January 7. Details will be available on the County’s website at www.gwinnettcounty.com.
Compared to 2019, this year’s proposed budget is slightly larger – less than one percent – but service demands have increased as our population has grown. The operating budget is $1.43 billion plus another $401 million in capital improvements, including sales tax funds raised by the SPLOST program.
Putting together a budget means not only meeting current challenges but also anticipating issues we’ll face in the future. Gwinnett has a long tradition of conservative budgeting based on strategic planning. The result allows us to deliver the superior services our residents have come to expect in a fiscally responsible manner.
In March of last year, commissioners set six strategic priorities that provided the framework for the 2020 budget.
A Safe and Healthy Community remains a top priority with funding for additional public safety resources highlighting the proposed budget. The improvements include a Situational Awareness and Crime Response Center where technology will help Gwinnett Police integrate and analyze data to investigate and prevent crimes, deploy resources, and act as a real time crime center. The budget also provides funding to equip an alternate E-911 center, creates 30 more master police officer positions, and adds two medic units and three alternate response vehicles with advanced life support capabilities for Fire and Emergency Services.
Last year, the state legislature approved an 11th Superior Court judge for Gwinnett so our budget funds that position and all the other employees that are needed to support the new judge in the Judge’s Office, the Clerk of Court, District Attorney, and Administrative Office of the Courts, as well as Sheriff’s deputies for courtroom security.
Our Mobility and Access priority includes a five-lane bridge on Harbins Road over State Route 316 with a park-and-ride lot. It also studies a Bus Rapid Transit Corridor along I-85, expands the Gwinnett Place Transit Center, and extends the Ivy Creek Greenway, connecting the Suwanee Creek Trail to the Mall of Georgia. Additionally, we are moving forward with many other transportation projects funded through SPLOST.
Under the Livability and Comfort priority, we will develop Beaver Ruin Park off Satellite Road with wetland trails and boardwalks and relocate libraries in Duluth, Norcross and Snellville.
In connection with the Strong and Vibrant Economy priority, we are creating the Gwinnett Entrepreneur Center to aid small business startups, continuing the Infinite Energy Center Expansion, and developing the Water Tower @ Gwinnett for water-related research and training.
Funding for enhanced cybersecurity falls under the Smart and Sustainable Government priority along with a four percent pay-for-performance increase to maintain a quality workforce.
Under the Communication and Engagement priority, we fund the 2020 elections with options for early and advance voting and an increase in poll official pay to encourage more individuals to sign up to staff County voting precincts.
As always, I am deeply grateful to a team of six residents who worked with staff and me to assess needs and allocate available funds for those priorities. I also appreciate the cooperation shown by elected officials and department directors in the planning and presentation of their business plans and the leadership that County Administrator Glenn Stephens provided throughout the budget process. And finally, I would like to thank CFO Maria Woods and her staff in the Department of Financial Services for their hard work – they make it possible year after year to adopt a realistic and responsible budget confidently and on time.