LAWRENCEVILLE - Last November, voters approved an extension to a penny sales tax to build roads, parks, libraries and police and fire stations.
While collections have slowed since the country dipped into recession, the money is still coming in.
The projects, though, are on hold, as county leaders try to determine if they can hire the librarians, fire fighters and police officers to man them.
"It's great to have those facilities," Deputy County Administrator Susan Lee said. "But (sales tax) money doesn't cover the operating expense."
Earlier this month commissioners voted against a proposed 25 percent increase to property taxes to bolster public safety and secure the county's finances for the next five years.
So leaders have gone back to the drawing board, reconsidering every expense and re-evaluating every future project for the impact it will have to the operating side of the county's $1.5 billion budget.
Last week, $20 million was cut from this year's spending plan, and officials delayed every capital project with operating implications until 2014.
In fact, two fire stations that are nearly completed won't open as expected next month, even though county officials have already hired and trained the staff.
Lee said that decision is less about the money it would take to buy furniture and turn on electricity - although that money will be saved - and more about taking a step back to determine a new plan for each county service.
The firefighters who were expecting to move to those stations, she said, may have to be reassigned to cover another area.
"We may have to use them at other locations because of cutbacks," she said. "The bigger issue is the (management) will determine where the staff will be used best because of the cuts we have to make. ... When that is developed, we can get a bigger picture for stations."
Donna Cote, the capital budget manager for the county's finance department, said some programs expected to be paid for with property tax money have been cut entirely, including computer upgrades, planned expansion to the Juvenile Court and a renovation of One Justice Square, which houses the county's planning offices.
Other projects - nearly everything on the 2009 sales tax program - were delayed.
Cote said the only projects to remain in the budget and five-year financial plan were the ones with few operating and maintenance costs. That means the road-building program to loosen the grip of gridlock will continue.
But five planned fire stations, two police precincts, an expansion to police headquarters and a 311 call center to answer non-emergencies have been put off.
Park projects - from the second phase of the Environmental and Heritage Center, expansions to existing facilities, the opening of new parks and the creation of a museum at a historic home saved from a road project - are all on hold.
"I think it is a common sense approach," Community Services Director Phil Hoskins said. "To bring on a new facility at this time doesn't (make sense). It doesn't mean they aren't going to happen."
Hoskins said some of the renovation projects could be revived once management has a better grip on the financial situation. Those projects could even save money by creating energy-saving lighting or other efficiencies.
Just a week ago, Hoskins helped open a new park, Alexander Park on Old Snellville Highway.
Unlike the fire stations, Hoskins said it would not have made sense to keep that park closed once it was constructed.
As a passive park, its operational costs are low, and he said, "once it's built, how do you keep people out of there anyway?"
SideBar: On hold
The following capital projects were delayed by commissioners last week, as officials take a look at how to save operating costs.
· Ambulance Service Expansion
· Environmental Heritage Center Phase II
· Bryson Park
· Fire Station #10 Relocation
· Fire Station #32
· Fire Station #31
· Fire Station #33
· George Pierce Park Expansion
· Fire Station #34
· George Pierce Trail
· Harbins Park Phase II
· Grayson Precinct
· Rhodes Jordan Park Expansion
· JB Williams Park
· Ivy Creek (Greenway)
· Rock Springs Park Expansion
· Lions Club Park Expansion
· Precinct #7
· Mountain View Park
· Little Mulberry Park Expansion
· 311 Call Center
· Radio System Expansion
· Stone Mountain Tennis Center
· Isaac Adair House
· McDaniel Farm Park Expansion
· Police Headquarters Renovation
· Lanier Park
· South Gwinnett Park Expansion