Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash formally presented her proposed fiscal year 2013 budget to the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday. The proposed budget totals $1.3 billion, which is 8.5 percent lower than this year’s $1.43 billion.
Six county residents and business people helped craft the proposed budget by serving on the chairman’s budget review committee. After hearing presentations from elected officials and department directors, the group studied departmental business plans and revenue projections to make recommendations for the budget.
The proposed budget preserves core services, maintains necessary reserves and addresses the impact of some legislated changes. It also adjusts for the loss of revenues resulting from a further drop in property values, changes mandated by the consent order that ended the Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) litigation between the County and its cities, and the creation of the new city of Peachtree Corners.
A major challenge for the 2013 budget preparation was the implementation of special service districts, as required by the SDS consent order. Three new service districts for fire, police and development provide services and collect revenues only within certain geographic areas of the County rather than countywide. For example, the police service district includes unincorporated Gwinnett and the cities that do not have their own police departments. A fourth district, funded through a contract with the County, will provide emergency medical services to residents of incorporated Loganville who live in Gwinnett.
The budget provides funding to handle the implementation of state legislation, including tax reform and judicial reform, but very little else in the way of improvements could be funded. Pay raises for County employees are not included in the budget for the fourth consecutive year, and the County will continue a policy of holding vacant positions unfilled for at least 90 days.
The proposed budget for daily operations in fiscal year 2013 totals $922 million, up slightly more than one percent from this year. The proposed capital budget is $385 million, down about 25 percent, primarily attributable to the completion of SPLOST projects in earlier years and the resulting decrease in SPLOST project budgets for 2013.
Service improvement requests totaled $6.8 million this year, but only a portion costing $1.6 million is included in the proposed budget – and $1.3 million of that is necessary to handle the implementation of new legislation.
“This has been the most difficult budget process I have ever been through, "Nash said. "Balancing the budget and maintaining core services despite the loss of millions of dollars in revenue in 2013 has been a major challenge. The largest impact stemmed from the creation of a Police Service District in compliance with the SDS consent order, which reduced the tax digest supporting this service district by approximately 20 percent. While this proposed budget does not include some much-needed facilities, maintenance, positions and pay raises, we could not afford to fund these now.”
The County’s revenues are down about $274 million since the recession began in 2008 due to a 25 percent decline in taxable property values. The current tax digest is about where it was in 2005. The County also expects a loss of $2.06 million in revenues next year due to the creation of the new city of Peachtree Corners. Even as property values have declined, Gwinnett’s population has continued to expand, growing by about 130,000 residents between 2005 and 2012.
Next summer, commissioners will set the millage rate for property taxes 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, which determines what services are provided by the County. The current millage rate is 13.02 mills, compared to 14.95 in 1996.
Under current estimates, the millage 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 will experience a more than one mill decrease. Residents of cities that do not operate a police department should see a millage rate increase of less than half a mill. The greatest reduction in rates will occur within the city of Loganville, where property owners will pay County taxes only for the general fund, recreation district, and general obligation debt.
In addition, commissioners will consider proposals to raise fees for E-911 and streetlights prior to the end of 2012 in order to keep those funds self-supporting.
The proposed budget is now available online at gwinnettcounty.com and as a hard copy in the Department of Financial Services office located in the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center (GJAC), 75 Langley Drive in Lawrenceville, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Departmental budget presentations made earlier this year are also available online.
Commissioners will hold a public hearing on Monday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at GJAC. They invite either oral or written comments about the budget during the hearing or through the county’s website through Monday, Dec. 31. The Board expects to adopt the 2013 budget on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013.
(Editor's note: This information was provided by Gwinnett County.)