Judge stays sanctions for county, cities
Move can clear way for grants

LAWRENCEVILLE - A judge has ordered sanctions be withheld while county and city officials hammer out a deal on providing services.

The order was issued Tuesday, the day after the Department of Community Affairs stripped qualified local government status from Gwinnett and its 15 cities for failing to reach a state-mandated service delivery strategy.

A service delivery strategy is an agreement among the county and the municipalities regarding the provision of services, such as road repair, police, land use planning and water service.

The loss of status takes away the governments' abilities to receive state-administered grants and permits and possibly federal stimulus money.

But officials believe the court order will clear the way to continue getting grants while mediation occurs, which will begin after a judge from outside of Gwinnett is assigned to the case.

"It's amazing to me that we find ourselves here," Deputy County Administrator Mike Comer said Tuesday.

The negotiations on the service delivery strategy have been ongoing for more than two years. Both city and county leaders say they are willing to set up service districts, allowing a different county property tax rates in cities that provide certain services. But the sides differ over how much tax relief should be given.

"I think we're very close. I think we've just gotten dug in," Comer said.

Randy Meacham, the managing director of the Gwinnett Municipal Association, which represents the local municipal governments, said city officials are working on a response to the county's petition for mediation.

He said the process is "uncharted," and he does not know how the judge's order will affect cities.