Board to explore revenues
Commissioners searching for ways to balance county budget

YOUNG HARRIS - A day after focusing possible cuts to county government, a commissioner said Tuesday revenues should be explored.

During a government planning session, Commissioner Kevin Kenerly set a goal of "revenue balancing," asking officials to analyze the millage rate and water and sewer rates as they struggle to balance the budget.

Kenerly - who left the retreat early because of a family medical emergency, asking County Administrator Jock Connell to announce his three initiatives - was not available for comment.

But Chairman Charles Bannister asked his staff to work on a proposal to impose a local option sales tax to take the place of some property tax revenues, an idea debated during his 2008 re-election campaign.

As far as Commissioner Mike Beaudreau is concerned, a tax increase isn't an option, although he said a tax rollback that has become common place during the last decade may not happen this year.

With a proposed budget calling for spending $43 million out of the county's reserve fund, the county's financial situation is a top priority for 2009, commissioners said during a goal-setting session Tuesday at the end of the annual three-day planning retreat.

"I'm mainly concerned in this next year with finances, and surviving for our citizens. We have to survive so they can," said Commissioner-elect Shirley Fanning-Lasseter, who plans to submit a goal list after she is sworn in in January.

After discussions Monday about the possibility of cutting millions of dollars worth of services and special events, the commissioners' list of new initiatives could call for even more costs.

Beaudreau said he wanted the county to consider doubling the 29 new police officers proposed in the 2009 budget, as well as considering building an indoor aquatic center, possibly in conjunction with Georgia Gwinnett College.

While Bannister asked staff to study a light-rail transit option along the Norfolk-Southern train route from Norcross to Sugar Hill, Beaudreau asked that officials revamp the Gwinnett Transit bus system, trading some local routes for business-friendly commuter options.

Commissioner Bert Nasuti said business ventures should be paramount in the slowing economic environment, and he offered solutions to Gwinnett's declining neighborhoods such as the continued pursuit of a rental housing ordinance, stiffer overcrowding laws and a process to work with banks to make sure foreclosed properties aren't abandoned.