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Taxes may be raised

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett officials intend to raise taxes to balance the government budget and put more police officers and firefighters on the street.

Nearly two months after commissioners voted on a temporary spending plan for 2009, officials said they won't use any of the county's rainy day fund to balance the permanent budget, to be adopted next week.

But the new proposal is about $10 million more than the interim operating plan, and officials said they are hoping for $65 million in additional revenues to make up the difference.

"I don't see much way to find that revenue without some adjustment to the millage rate," County Administrator Jock Connell said.

A total of $40 million in cuts from a county efficiency study, including the elimination of 64 positions, mostly in permitting offices slowed by the downturn of the housing market, helped officials come close to eliminating the use of reserve funds to balance the 2009 spending plan.

But a new revenue projection based on the faltering economy created another $7 million budget gap, even before officials decided to add 58 more police officers and 42 firefighters to the county staff.

"We almost balanced the budget, and then the revenue projections came in," Deputy County Administrator Mike Comer said. "The costs started going up at that point."

Comer said the amount of a tax increase could become more clear in June, when officials are expected to have a clearer picture of the county tax digest, which could drop because of a decrease in real estate values.

Officials said they have no plans for furloughs or additional layoffs, although several jobs left vacant because of a hiring freeze have been eliminated. In addition to canceling the annual Gwinnett Glows fireworks display, cuts include reducing subsidies to services such as the Board of Health, children's shelter, Latin American Association, Partnership Gwinnett and the county library system.

During a public comment session Monday, only one person spoke out concerning the budget proposal. Ellis Lamme of Buford lamented cuts made to the Upper Ocmulgee RC&D Council, which works on dam rehabilitation and flood control.

Tonight, commissioners will consider a 30 percent increase to occupational tax certificate applications, which is expected to bring in $3.5 million.

The proposed budget will be considered March 3.