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Budget cuts: BOC to review proposal
Suggestions include staffing reductions

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County commissioners said they are faced with tough decisions as they prepare to make deeper cuts to balance the 2010 budget and maintain the county's financial viability.

According to a memo obtained by the Gwinnett Daily Post, Gwinnett County Administrator Jock Connell is proposing several cost-saving measures, including 250 to 275 additional staffing reductions countywide, hiring freezes that could include targeted sworn public safety jobs, the shifting of the costs for certain parks' operations to outside groups such as youth sports associations, and the elimination of the Corrections Department.

Connell said he developed the recommendations with county staff after commissioners voted on June 2 against a proposed property tax increase.

"If the Board of Commissioners wants a balanced budget, a lot of money has got to be cut," Connell said, adding that it would be "almost impossible" to make the needed cuts without impacting personnel.

Commissioners took $33 million out of the budget in the fall of 2008 and cut $21 million more on June 16, Connell said. But a five-year plan that would have required a millage rate increase must now be reconsidered.

Commission Chairman Charles Bannister said the cuts will be "quite broad."

"I would suspect all areas of government will be hit," Bannister said. "I don't believe we can get where we need to be without the cooperation of all departments and making reductions in personnel."

The cuts will likely put Gwinnett County's level of service back to where it was in 2003 and 2004, Bannister said.

It's too early to say exactly where the cuts will be made, Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said, but he predicted the Commission's actions will herald a significant adjustment in the way the county conducts business.

"Difficult decisions are ahead of us," said Beaudreau, who voted against the $1.7 billion budget that passed in March.

Commissioner Bert Nasuti agreed the Commission is going to have to make some tough decisions as it revisits its long-range plans.

"Everything's on the table," he said. "Everything's being looked at."

Nasuti said the county hasn't had a tax increase in 13 years, but in that time, costs such as the price of fleet fuel have risen. Because of an increase in prices and in the number of vehicles, the county pays about $14 million a year for fuel, about $10 million more than it paid seven years ago.

"Governments at all levels are experiencing this," Nasuti said. "We're no different than anyone else. We're just a much larger operation, and our citizens are used to a certain level of service."

In its heyday, Gwinnett was making money and adding police officers, firefighters, libraries, parks and streets, Commissioner Kevin Kenerly said. Now that revenue is down, the county can't continue to pay for its current level of service without increasing the millage rate, he said.

But county residents balked at the proposed tax hike, and hundreds attended public hearings to voice their concerns.

As a result, these needed cuts will be painful, Kenerly said.

"Some folks at the county may lose their jobs," he said. "I don't think any department is not under consideration as far as what we can do to balance budgets."

Bannister reiterated that the Commission doesn't have a choice in making these cuts.

"Unless the taxpayers wish to change their mind and replenish some of the lost funding we have encountered, the only option is to reduce spending," Bannister said, "and that's the direction that we're going."