LAWRENCEVILLE - Commissioners approved deep cuts in service Tuesday, but residents said they wanted to save some of the county's critical functions such as police and fire.
While a new budget won't be adopted until January, officials approved a resolution setting the "framework" for 2010, including cutting more than 250 jobs, mostly through retirement.
The cuts would leave three newly constructed fire stations unmanned, close two library branches and cause the disbanding of the county police's DUI, park police and crime prevention units. According to the resolution, the county prison will close by July 2011, with the work-release program ending in January.
The quality of life unit, which has been credited with revitalizing communities, was spared, and officials said they would add money to implement the federal 287(g) to begin deportation proceedings on inmates at the county jail.
"These decisions are going to dramatically alter the lives of my friends and neighbors," Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said. But, he called the actions "bold and necessary."
After residents crammed the courthouse in June to protest a proposed 25 percent millage rate increase, which was struck down, officials said they had to make severe cuts to balance next year's budget.
Even with the $40 million in cuts set in motion Tuesday, officials still have a $7 million budget gap for 2010.
Commissioners rejected language from Commissioner Shirley Lasseter that would have made the cuts suggestions instead of mandates, but they still called on the creation of a citizens budget committee to consider revenue enhancements and other cuts.
"We need your creativity and your ingenuity to get us through this," Lasseter said to the crowd in the nearly full 400-seat auditorium.
While public comments were not allowed until after the matter was settled, residents said they lost trust in the politicians but showed support for public safety personnel.
"You've got a tough situation, but to even consider cutting law enforcement in this county is absolutely absurd," retired police officer Ray Dunlap said.
Some people talked about the improvements in their community since quality of life efforts began and other talked about fear because of the increase in drug cartels and other crimes.
"I believe we could change the headlines," said Janelle Clotfelter, a Duluth woman suggesting the implementation of a sales tax to pay for security measures.
Beaudreau proposed charging people who don't live in the county for using the local parks and raising transit fares by 50 cents to boost the budget.
Lawrenceville woman Claudia Walters, who did not speak publicly, said she did not oppose the cuts.
Walters was one of hundreds of residents to protest a proposed 25 percent tax increase in June and said she wanted to be sure commissioners don't revive the idea, as a millage rate has not yet been set.
"I think it warrants watching," she said. "We spoke loud and clear in June."
Joan Clack, a Centerville woman, said the cuts were too severe. She is concerned her son's job as a fireman could be in jeopardy and that a drop in police officers could lead to an increase in crime.
"When it comes to police and the fire department I'd rather have a tax increase than have cuts and be left hanging," Clack said.
District Attorney Danny Porter, livid that a call to cut his budget by 9 percent would necessitate his staff to take two furlough days each month in 2010, said the move would shut down the courts.
Reacting to commissioners describing the cuts as undecided until the budget is adopted, he said, "Since it's just pretend, I'm not going to give them 9 percent."
But Richard Long, a police officer who heads the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Police, said he was disappointed in the decision but encouraged by the outpouring of support from people.
"The law enforcement community and the citizens, we have each other's backs on this," he said. "We're a team, and we're trying to make sure the team isn't cut."
SideBar: At A Glance
Commissioners on Tuesday approved about $40 million in proposed cost-saving measures to fill in a budget gap for future years.
Most of the following measures would take effect in 2010, although commissioners will consider the final 2010 spending plan in January.
· Reduction of 250 employees, including about 100 police officers and firefighters
· Eliminate pay increases
· Delay opening of three fire stations
· Closure of the Gwinnett County Correctional Complex by July 2011
· Elimination of work-release program at prison in 2010
· Closure of two library branches
· Disbanding the police department's DUI, park police and crime prevention units
· Closure of the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center on weekends
· Closure of the Peachtree Corners police substation
· Consolidation of polling locations
· Elimination of grants to five nonprofits and reduce five others by 10 percent
· Elimination of programs at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center
· Closure of community pools for one day each week and closure of the Dacula pool
· Cancellation of the Christmas tree lighting event in 2010
· Delay opening of Stone Mountain tennis complex and Isaac-Adair House