Bids in for '08 budget
Review team to go over requests

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County government could top 5,000 employees if officials agree to requests for next year's budget.

But Finance Director Lisa Johnsa said many of the requests will not be funded.

As part of the 2008 budget process, government officials have requested 373 new employees and $35.7 million in program modifications. The county now has 4,797 positions authorized on its payroll.

Johnsa said about $7.3 million of the proposed program modifications are essential costs associated with the opening of new facilities and the appointment of a new Superior Court judge, which was approved by the legislature.

In addition, 95 of the requested positions are considered essential.

"The issues for 2008 are not a surprise. They are the same issues we've had for the past several years," Johnsa said. "Operation for projects is important and ongoing. There will be a lot of unfunded needs."

Johnsa said 264 positions have been requested by the public safety, courts and sheriff's departments. In the past several years, the county has boosted the number of sheriff's deputies to account for the opening of an expansion to the jail, but that trend was expected to end in 2007.

She said the addition of 30 police officers, an ambulance crew and firefighters to man Fire Station 29, which is expected to open in Braselton next year, are part of the number termed essential.

"Nothing ever gets cheaper," Commissioner Bert Nasuti said after a 2008 budget presentation last week. "It's amazing we can continue to do what we do without raising taxes."

But financial officials have warned for some time that the county's expenses are increasing quicker than the revenues are growing, making the budget situation tight.

Later this month, a budget review team will begin poring through department requests to determine next year's projects. A proposal will be issued by Dec. 1, and commissioners are expected to vote on the spending plan in January.

But Nasuti and Commissioner Kevin Kenerly said they were concerned that politics could interfere with the discussion, especially since last-minute changes were added to the budget this year.

"I'm not going to wait until the document hits my desk. I'm going to start asking questions now," Nasuti said.

"It's my hope everyone will do their homework early," Kenerly added. "I don't want the budget to become a campaign issue."