For the second straight year, Chairman Charles Bannister's state of the county address had a cautionary tone as he talked about the "financial challenges" and "difficult decisions" facing the county.
The difference was that last year's speech often used the future tense, bracing the county for what was to come. This year's address, given Thursday at the Gwinnett Center, showed that those fears have materialized as Gwinnett, like the state and country, faces difficult economic times.
While Bannister touted the county's successes - a lower crime rate, a national award for the park system, the arrival of the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves and the completion of the I-85/Ga. 316 interchange - he did not sugarcoat the challenges the county is facing.
"For the past several years, we've seen financial challenges looming on the horizon," Bannister said. "However, no one - not even the experts - foresaw the depths of this extreme economic downturn. It has put even more pressure on already-tight finances and is causing us to re-evaluate every dollar we spend."
Bannister pointed to the county's interim budget as evidence of that and said the county is implementing a "governmentwide process" to identify and implement areas to cut costs.
"As good stewards of taxpayers' money, we need to take a critical look every year at what we fund with your hard-earned dollars," he said.
The chairman concluded his speech by saying, "God willing," that next year's address would be more positive with news of an improving economy, a stable stock market and a "prosperous future for Gwinnett County."
To make that happen, the county will have to make tough decisions in order to weather the financial crisis. It won't be an easy path to 2010, but it's in these tough times that we need our government and county leaders to step up and lead us through.
Even in the current economy, there are many successes for the county to celebrate. Hopefully in 2010, Bannister will be able to get back to making those things the focus of his address.
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