By: Staff Reports | Gwinnett Citizen

2015 budget proposal invests in big picture

Lawrenceville, Ga. – Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash presented a proposed $1.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2016 to the public and the Board of Commissioners during a briefing recently.

After a December public hearing and opportunity for public input, commissioners will finalize the budget during their first meeting in January. 

Chairman Nash invited five county residents and business people to serve on a budget review committee. Two of the committee members graduated from the inaugural class of the Gwinnett Citizens Academy. The residents heard presentations from elected officials and department directors in late August and early September. Together with the County’s financial staff, the budget review committee studied departmental business plans, budget needs and revenue projections before making recommendations for the 2016 budget.

Common themes this year were continuing to restore funding for services cut during the recession, recruiting and retaining a high quality workforce, and making investments that improve essential infrastructure and support critical community needs. The resulting balanced budget proposal holds the line on property tax rates while investing more in police, fire and emergency services, the judicial system and senior services. The proposed budget also continues Gwinnett’s commitment to maintaining and improving transportation and water resources systems. 

The proposed operating budget totals $1.1 billion, compared to $1.05 billion this year. The budget includes an additional $7.2 million to cover election expenses and expand hours and locations for advance voting. It would unfreeze 25 police positions and restore staff at the animal shelter, correctional facility and parks maintenance. Library funding would reach 88 percent of its 2008 level and Gwinnett Transit would add three new express routes. Home care and delivered meals would be expanded for seniors on waiting lists. There would be additions to a special victims unit in the District Attorney’s office, 30 new police officers, nine new firefighter/paramedics, 12 new part-time sheriff deputies, three new Juvenile Court positions and another magistrate judge. 

The budget also proposes a four percent pay for performance increase for eligible employees and the restoration of longevity pay that was eliminated in 2009. Longevity pay would be based on years of service and is a way to recognize longtime employees for their commitment to public service. Both of these proposals are intended to help departments recruit and retain talented employees.

The proposed capital budget is $363 million, down from $371 million this year. Projects include the design for a new state patrol building, a courthouse expansion, design and construction of a new medical examiner/morgue building, and senior center renovations. In addition, the proposed capital budget would fund body cameras for police officers and sheriff’s deputies.

Nash said, “This proposal is in line with Gwinnett’s history of sustainable, conservative budgeting practices and looks at least three to five years ahead at future implications of today’s decisions.” She added that Gwinnett’s property tax digest grew steadily until 2009 but then lost 21 percent of its value by 2013. It will likely return to its 2008 level by 2018. Population has grown 15 percent since 2008 while County staff increased only 1 percent.

The proposed budget is available online at www.gwinnettcounty.com and as a hard copy in the Department of Financial Services at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, 75 Langley Drive in Lawrenceville, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Videos of the departmental budget presentations in September are also available online.

Commissioners will hold a public hearing on Dec. 7, 2015, at 7 p.m. in the GJAC auditorium. They invite either oral or written comments about the budget during the hearing or through the county’s website through the end of the year. The Board plans to adopt the 2016 budget on Jan. 5, 2016.