Gwinnett County's elected leaders unanimously approved Thursday (Jan. 3) a $1.4-billion balanced budget for 2013. As with previous years, there were cuts, tough choices and no pay raises for county employees.
But there also are signs that the economic woes that have plagued the county in recent years may be bottoming out.
District 1 Commissioner Jace Brooks of Suwanee, who is beginning his first full term on the board, noted that the Gwinnett tax digest is projected to decline about 1.9 percent this year. That would be the smallest such decline in recent years, and the reduction in tax revenues has been a major problem for Gwinnett budgets recently. Brooks also represents Duluth on the commission.
Brooks, who was on the Suwanee City Council from 2002-12, noted that the city did not experience the digest decline that the overall county did. He also cited the "size and complexity" of Gwinnett government as a difference in putting a budget together.
Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash, who is beginning her first full term, noted that it was the "most difficult budget process I've been through."
For 2013, county leaders had to contend with a new city (Peachtree Corners), service districts (mandated by the Service Delivery Strategy agreement), as well as the continued decline in property tax revenue.
Nash said that when the budget process began last September the concerns were "more than just money. There were operational issues."
The 2013 budget is 1.7 percent lower than last year's budget.
Perhaps the department hardest hit by the cuts was the library system -- $1 million in materials was eliminated. Also reduced sharply was the budget for parks and recreation.
Brooks said that the cuts "were not fun for anyone, but it's the reality that we face. There are discretionary and non-discretionary items."
The approved budget includes $122,080 in funds requested by District Attorney Danny Porter for an assistant chief investigator to lead a continued probe into corruption in Gwinnett County government.
The commission will set the millage rate for property taxes next summer after assessments and appeals are completed in the spring. A millage rate will be associated with each of the new service districts. Rates will depend on a property’s location and determined by what services are provided by the county.
According to current estimates, the rate for residents who live in unincorporated Gwinnett County will increase by less than one mill, while residents in cities that operate a police department such as Duluth will experience a more than one mill decrease. Residents of cities that do not operate a police department should see an increase of less than half a mill.
The complete Gwinnett County 2013 budget can be viewed online on the county website.