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Tax increase back on table
Kenerly calls for new county plan

LAWRENCEVILLE - A property tax increase is back on the table for county residents, as a commissioner said service cuts to balance the budget have been too severe.

During Tuesday's board meeting, Commissioner Kevin Kenerly called for county staff to devise a plan that would cost taxpayers an average of $14 more a month - or about two additional mills.

Earlier this year, residents filled the courthouse to protest a plan to raise property taxes by three mills, but since then a reduction in police and fire services, cuts to library hours and increases to parks and recreation fees have caused more outcry.

"It has become crystal clear to me in recent weeks that we are cutting badly needed programs - services our residents rely on - and that those cuts are hurting families," said Kenerly, who announced this summer he would not seek a fifth term on the board. "Bold action is needed to keep Gwinnett County a preferred place to live, work and raise a family. I would ask the Gwinnett families to sacrifice with me."

Chairman Charles Bannister said extra revenues are needed to continue the county's quality.

"It may put us in more solid ground as we move forward," he said. "Maybe more people will approve of this today than last time."

Rita and John Osborn, residents who attended Tuesday's Board of Commissioners meeting to express displeasure about the library cuts, said a smaller tax increase would be OK with them.

"In a sense we saw it coming," John Osborn said. "They have to raise money from somewhere."

Commissioner Bert Nasuti agreed with Kenerly that funds should be found to continue to operate the county prison, which had been slated for closure in July 2011.

Shirley Lasseter called Kenerly's comments, "a very astute analysis."

Only Commissioner Mike Beaudreau, who has been a staunch opponent of tax increases, did not speak up during the hearing.

Later, he said his position on a tax increase hasn't changed.

"I think it's the perfect time to do exactly what we are doing, which is cutting back," Beaudreau said, adding that he did not relish cuts to fire and police services but thought efficiences could be found in the government

In his announcement, Kenerly directed staff to analyze a tax plan for a vote in the coming weeks.

Gwinnett County tax bills have already gone out, with a first installment due next week.

But commissioners failed to set a millage rate after the controversial tax increase was defeated. Instead, they asked a judge to allow a temporary issuance of bills, allowing for a second set of bills to be sent when the rate is permanently set.

Kenerly offered an apology for failing to lead on the issue, and he said the budget cuts have imposed a financial burden on citizens in terms of increased athletic association fees, insurance premiums due to failure to open new fire stations and other costs.

"I know this won't be popular in some circles but it's the right thing to do for this community," he said.

This week, a citizen committee set up to study the budget and service levels, called Engage Gwinnett, is slated to begin a six-month-long study.

Kenerly said he still supports the study, but felt the elected officials needed to act as leaders to restore services.