LAWRENCEVILLE - Ask some of the thousands of Gwinnettians who have made Gwinnett Glows their annual family fireworks tradition each Fourth of July, and some may say the government's budget cuts hurt already.
But after public outrage over a proposed 25 percent increase to property taxes, officials are scouring over the budget again - just months after chopping out $33 million in expenses and adding $7 million in revenue enhancements.
Luxuries like the annual fireworks event and movies in the park were cut. Development inspectors were laid off.
While some officials say the county budget is already lean and more slices will carve to the bone, Lawrenceville Mayor Rex Millsaps said he was astounded to see 4 to 8 percent salary raises for county employees.
That should be the next cut, he said of the raises.
County employees are paying more for their health care after benefits were cut this year after a study of efficiencies in the government.
"I think they have made a valiant effort in trying to cut as much as they can possibly cut without bleeding to death," Commissioner Shirley Lasseter said. "Whether they have cut enough, I can't say," she said before Thursday's announcement to take another look at expenses before considering a tax increase.
Deputy County Administrator Mike Comer said Friday officials already have begun looking for further cuts, but have not come up with the number needed to balance the budget.
First, he said, decisions on how much to keep in the reserve coffers - a key to keeping the government's Triple AAA bond rating - and on employee compensation have to be made before the financial situation is clear.
The 25 percent millage rate hike would have brought in $75 million, but it was also intended to add more than 600 police officers and firefighters over the next five years. Comer said that plan is no longer sustainable without talk of new revenues.
For now, though, the discussions surround budget reductions.
Could cuts go deeper?
Last year, the most painful part of the attempts to keep the county in the black were the layoffs of 100 people out of the county's work force of 5,000. Most of these layoffs came from the development department whose workload had diminished due to crashing housing market.
But are more layoffs on the horizon?
Already this year, projects to replace a police helicopter and renovate government offices were delayed.
Hours for aquatic centers were cut; community schools and school crossing guard programs were eliminated.
Subsidies were slashed - from 10 percent cuts to the Department of Family and Children Services ($82,615), board of health ($165,544), mental health ($85,366) and indigent medical care ($50,000) to cutting in half the Partnership Gwinnett promise ($250,000) and eliminating an annual gift to the United Way ($30,000).
The library system's budget was already cut by 4 percent, but could the next round mean branches are closed?
A concern from the state temporarily stalled a cost-saving move to turn off the lights on Interstate 85, but the move became permanent last week, unless state officials, facing their own budget crisis, can find the money.
Sweeping of curbs and the cutting of grass in parks and along roads has been postponed, but would further cuts mean grass reaches people's waists?
Could the four-day work week for tag offices become even shorter? Could some parks be closed?
John Cook, a Lilburn man who protested the millage rate increase, said he is OK with losing a few parks, saying only a small portion of the population uses the recreational facilities.
Officials have not given an indication of the cuts, although County Administrator Jock Connell said decisions could be rolled out in phases, beginning soon.
'All options are on the table'
When Bannister announced Thursday he would table the controversial millage rate increase, he said officials would continue to look at revenue enhancements as well as cuts. Officials estimate an additional $7 million from increases to ambulance fees, business licenses and other programs.
But he said the new budget upheaval could mean drastic "visible and tangible impacts."
"You know when you cut a service, somebody will be hurt, and I choose to cut public safety last," he said, adding that he continues to have a vision to spread county police services into incorporated areas - even if the city already has its own police force. But Bannister did not comment on the future of the 600 new public safety positions the tax increase would have funded.
"It's all a matter of perspective," said Commissioner Bert Nasuti, adding that some people cherish the local parks while others say the award-winning system has grown too large. "I don't think county government is wasteful, but we'll have to make choices on certain services."
When asked if the county had cut enough from its budget to justify a tax increase, Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said, "absolutely not."
In March, when commissioners considered a budget that would require a tax increase to become balanced, Beaudreau offered a leaner alternative, but his attempt was rebuffed.
"I'm open to a host of options," Beaudreau said, naming the transit system as a possibility for trimming service or increasing rates. "The budget has got to be balanced. All options are on the table."
While Bannister has promised to table the millage rate decision, officials will still hold a public hearing on the proposal at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center.
A group of citizens will rally at 7 p.m. Monday at Suwanee's Town Center Park, asking commissioners not to delay the decision but instead to vote the proposed millage increase down.
SideBar: Balancing the budget
The following cuts and revenue enhancements have been adopted by the county government this year:
Aquatic Red Cross training
Assoc. of Retarded Citizens - reduce 10%/-$13,718
Barrier Free - reduce 10%/-$375
Board of Health - reduce 10%/-$165,544
Children Shelter - reduce 10%/-$7,350
Close Beaver Ruin water reclamation facility/-$832,186
Close Best Friend Pool seasonal pool when school starts/-$5,552
Close Dacula Park Pool seasonal pool when school starts/-$2,759
Community School/no funding
Consolidate IT Personnel in the BOC area/-$261,995
Continue implementation of drought/water restrictions permit/-$100,000
Contribution to capital - close Police Warehouse/-$750,000
Contribution to capital - defer Helicopter Replacement/-$3,019,452
Contribution to capital - defer One Justice Renovation/-$880,487
Contribution to capital - delay Juvenile Court Expansion/-$1,079,690
Council for Seniors - reduce 10%/-$310
DFACS (Family & Children's Service) - reduce 10%/-$82,615
Discontinue participation in GRPA adult softball/-$3,740
Discontinue providing field marking paint to YAA/-$19,000
Efficiency of organization, outsourcing, etc./-$3,500,000
Eliminate "no impact" maintenance agreements/-$221,865
Eliminate annual county Movie Under The Stars/-$3,195
Eliminate construction manager position/-$92,128
Eliminate dust control/-$120,000
Eliminate printing of payroll advices/-$5,400
Eliminate public pay phones/-$24,975
Eliminate school crossing guard program/-$187,371
Eliminate Soil & Water Use Agreement/-$37,889
Eliminate Upper Ocmulgee River RC&D use agreement/-$35,664
Eliminate vacant admin positions/-$332,864
Eliminate vacant Operat. Maint. Manager/-$69,612
Eliminate vacant/frozen positions in Grounds/Maint. Div./-$466,203
Eliminate weekend janitorial maintenance in the parks/-$25,000
Fund positions through various capital funds/-$1,360,000
Georgia Power tariff analysis/-$500,000
Human Services Coalition - reduce 5%/-$2,899
Indigent Medical Care - reduce 10%/-$50,000
IT Contractor Personnel Conversion/-$448,594
Latin American Association - reduce 10%/-$1,921
Mental Health - reduce 10%/ -$85,366
Metro Atlanta United Way - reduce 100%/-$30,000
Open House Special Event/-$12,402
P&D Reduction Completion/-$554,324
Partnership Gwinnett - Reduce by 50%/-$250,000
Reduce August pool hours/-$15,840
Reduce contracted extradition services by competitively bidding on demand/-$26,359
Reduce contracted mowing & trimming, ROW & sidewalks/-$350,000
Reduce costs to conduct P&R ground breaking ceremonies/-$20,000
Reduce food budget due to purchase of large quantities/-$28,056
Reduce library subsidy by 4.06 percent/-$801,700
Reduce marketing Fds for Gwinnett Park Life/-$9,260
Reduce office supply budgets/-$431,986
Reduce overtime due to filling vacant positions/-$489,995
Reduce overtime due to new medical screening policy/-$200,000
Reduce replacement uniform funding/-$200,000
Reduce vehicle replacement charges/-$3,999,999
Reduce water budget due to conservation efforts/-$11,060
Reduce West Nile Virus Program by 50%/-$50,000
Revitalization Reserve - Reduce CID study funding/-$410,000
Shift cost of judges subscriptions to law library/-$45,613
Turn off I-85 lighting and Sugarloaf tunnel lighting/-$175,000
Group self insurance/-$3,216,469
Reduce fuel/parts reserve/-$2,000,000
Contribution to Capital - 311 Center and UST/-$300,000
Eliminate clothing allowance/-$6,654
Adjust annual vesting payout /-$6,635
Fire - reduce Storm Water Action Program (capital)/-$200,000
Corrections bus (Capital)/-$120,000
Corrections courtyard expansion savings (Capital)/-$13,126
Recorders Court/Juvenile Court (Capital)/-$15,598
Print Shop (equipment and renovation)/-$367,517
Reduce inmate housing reserve/-$750,000
Reduction in OPEB contribution (allocate to other funds appropriately) /-$200
Excess leave payout reduction/$753,352
10% reduction for dead stock/$184,737
Postpone sweeping of curbs & intersections/$97,707
Add-on fee to sentences for clerk's costs/$590,400
Ambulance fee increase/$720,812
Aquatic Red Cross training/11,700
Reimbursement for use of county vehicles on PT jobs/$384,928
State Criminal Alien Assistance Program grant/$100,000
Business license fees increase/$3,500,000
Planning & development fees increase/$900,000
Mail fee for processing vehicle tags/$142,000
Gas leak emergency vehicle time reimbursement/$100,000
Signs and other property damage recovery from insurance companies /$50,000
Revenue loss from closing Best Friend Pool early/$4,005
Revenue loss from closing Dacula Park Pool early/$1,651
Reimburse General Fund for law librarian from Law Library Fund/$84,985
Source: Gwinnett County Finance Department