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Leaders pass the buck to courtrooms

By voting them into public service, we grant elected leaders the power and authority to make decisions for us.

All the people won't be pleased all the time. Still, the decisions must be made. That's a primary part of the elected leader's job.

With increasing frequency, however, "decision-makers" find it easier to eschew this responsibility.

When the executive branch can't come to terms, the problem is shipped off to the judicial branch for resolution.

Our county seems to be caught in this rut.

Consider:

· A judge - not county officials - set (temporarily) Gwinnett County's millage rate.

· The same court - not county officials - determined (temporarily) this year's property tax digest.

· The courts - not county or city officials - are dealing with the delivery of citizen services and how the governments share tax revenues for those services.

· A citizens group - not county officials - is shaping future budgets. Engage Gwinnett has been formed and is already at work determining what to cut and what to keep. Their recommendations will be used by the commissioners in the decision-making process. Citizen input is good and I applaud and support the group's efforts. Yet this is something I'm accustomed to elected officials doing.

· Even how trash is picked up is being decided by the courts - not county officials.

In past years, the tasks bulleted above were business as usual for commissioners. Budgets are approved and taxes are set each year. This time around, the inability to decide by deadline has turned the routine into chaos.

We won't go into detail on how we got to where we are today. Suffice it to say that the county's budget woe is a combination of the economic recession and a long-term plan that underwent no adjustment even though we knew that the expense and revenue lines were drawing closer.

Unresolved, these issues back up the assembly line of county government. Job One for the county is to clear this logjam.

In many of these cases, not getting things done on time means we eventually do them twice. (Did you know that after you pay this year's property taxes, you'll likely be billed again once final rates are set?)

The commissioners need to take a fresh look at each of these issues. Take them one at a time. Knock 'em down. Cross them off the list.

Start with the millage rate and make a decision: either a rate hike or more budget cuts or a combination of the two. You'll catch some flak any way you go, but dagnabbit, that's your job.

Secondly, the leaders of the county and Gwinnett's cities should get back to the table and reach an agreement on the delivery of services.

The rest of the logjam should be dealt with in rapid order. Commissioners need to clear the decks of old business so that they can concentrate on the new.

That can't happen as long as this much time and this many resources are spent in the courtroom.

J.K. Murphy is the publisher of the Gwinnett Daily Post. E-mail him at jk.murphy@gwinnettdailypost.com.