County to study cuts in service during budget crunch

LAWRENCEVILLE - Government services could be slashed in an extensive efficiency study announced Wednesday by Gwinnett's top officials.

Officials have a target of saving $35 million in operating costs through the 100-day Service-Value-Responsibility project.

With county revenues "flat" and costs increasing, the move comes a month after officials announced a hiring freeze for all county departments except for public safety. Also this summer, the county implemented a fuel conservation program.

"This is causing us to delve deeper and deeper into efficiencies out of business necessity," County Administrator Jock Connell said of the economic climate. "The current board wants to provide superior services while keeping taxpayer costs low."

Possible outcomes include cuts to services, increases to rates, including water and sewer rates, and even layoffs.

The project is expected to be complete in late November or early December, about the same time Chairman Charles Bannister reveals his proposal for the 2009 county budget. Connell said some of the initiatives recommended through the study could be incorporated into the budget before its adoption in January while others could be added throughout the next year.

"This cost management project improves our financial security and focuses on our core responsibility to invest in high-value activities that boost the local economy and improve Gwinnett residents' quality of life," Bannister said.

Connell said the $35 million target does not match a required revenue reduction, but Deputy County Administrator Mike Comer pointed out that the 2008 budget had a recommended use of reserve funds of $32 million for operating expenses.

"We know our budgets and forecasts have told us for a while that we have a (funding) gap," Comer said. "The instructions we've gotten is that everything is on the table."

For the study, the county has 70 employees divided into nine teams to take a comprehensive look at the operations overseen by the Board of Commissioners. The work will be facilitated by a consultant, David Cowan of Management Systems Consultants.

Connell said the project will later be opened up to functions conducted by other elected officials, such as the sheriff, district attorney and tax commissioner.