When the housing market bubble burst, home values collapsed. Many lost their homes to foreclosure and others are still “underwater” in homes worth less than their mortgage loan.
As a human being, I have compassion for those homeowners. As chairman of the Board of Commissioners, I also understand the difficulty for local governments, which depend on property tax revenues to pay for many of their operations and services. When property values fall, tax revenues fall too. Sales taxes follow the same trend since folks spend less when times are tight.
Judging by sales of Gwinnett properties, it looks like we hit bottom last year. Prices are rising again, but slowly. Thankfully, there are fewer foreclosed homes in the marketplace than there were even a year ago. Builders are building again.
Our old confidence in the future is returning. Gwinnett is still growing. We’re still building on our strengths as we always have – our location, our climate, our schools, our people, our roads, our parks, our libraries. The list goes on. Our community economic development program, Partnership Gwinnett, continues to attract new employers, new investments, and new jobs. I have been encouraged by the number of recent business relocations and expansion activities of existing businesses during the past year.
I’m very grateful to Gwinnett voters for renewing the penny sales tax known as SPLOST for three more years after the current one expires at the end of March. We’ve promised that 70 percent of the funds raised by the new program will go to transportation projects all over the county – including new major roads, bridges, intersections, alignments, school safety projects, and sidewalks. In addition, Gwinnett’s 16 cities will get a share of the funding. So will public safety, parks, libraries, and senior services.
The Board of Commissioners votes on the 2014 spending plan on January 7. The budget, as it has been proposed, will allow us to expand emergency medical services slightly, adjust to new legislation like juvenile justice reform, absorb rising healthcare costs, and even give employees a modest raise, their first in five years. Even with these additions, our overall spending will remain about the same as last year – and I pledge to you that your county government will continue to look for ways to save money and operate more efficiently. You can learn more about county finances on the web at http://www.gwinnettcounty.com under the Your Money tab.
So things are looking up. Gwinnett will be a better place and 2014 will be a better year for all of us in so many ways.