Budget proposal adds jobs
Officials suggest hiring 125 safety workers

LAWRENCEVILLE - Less than a month after announcing layoffs for nearly 100 staffers, Gwinnett's government officials are proposing hiring 125 people, almost all in public safety.

The positions - including 75 firefighters and 29 police officers - are part of the proposed 2009 budget, released Monday.

While the proposed $919 million operating budget is a 6.3 percent increase over 2008, the spending plan doesn't include the elimination of 93 positions in planning and development and water resources jobs due to a slow housing market and the closing of a sewage plant. The layoffs are expected to save the county $4.5 million in 2009 and $5.9 million the

following year, and officials are expected soon to release other cost-saving measures as part of a study to save $35 million.

"Some areas are declining in their workload; some areas are growing in their workload, so their positions are being added," Budget Director Chad Teague said of the proposal.

County officials are slated to open a new fire station in the Tribble Mill area and another in the Buford/Hamilton Mill area, creating the need for more firefighters.

The changes, acting Finance Director Maria Woods said, would likely be added when commissioners adopt the budget in January.

"It's two different tracks we're going down," Woods said of the budget process and the efficiency study. "We are deliberately making sure we take our time and make sure things are folded in the way we want them to."

In addition to 29 police officers and one staffer for the emergency 911 center, the county is slated to add two positions for the maintenance of three new park sites scheduled to open next year, Settles Bridge Park, the Isaac Adair House and Freeman's Mill Park.

"We intend to bring the (study) results and the proposed budget forward on parallel tracks," County Administrator Jock Connell said in a statement. "These two major initiatives need to be viewed together. Once we have the board's direction on both, we will combine these into the 2009 financial plan for county government."

While Woods said the budget was created assuming commissioners would not increase property tax rates - a decision which will come in mid-2009 - the budget could mean a $43 million dip into the county's reserve fund, breaking the county's policy of keeping two month's worth of cash onhand.

Woods and other finance officials said few new projects were introduced in the county's capital budget plan. In fact, the 2009 proposal of $503.1 million is 35 percent less than the 2008 capital budget of $774.2 million.

Projects incorporated in the plan include replacement of the heating and air conditioning system in the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, computer upgrades, completion of the Yellow River sewage plant upgrade, and continuing the extension of Sugarloaf Parkway. The long-range plan for 2010-14 is $1.47 billion.

The proposed budget is available for review at the finance and commissioners offices of the justice center. It will be presented at a public hearing at 7 p.m. Dec. 11 at the justice center.