Engaging Gwinnett to ensure a better future

Last month, the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners asked the Gwinnett Chamber to partner to create a special committee of citizens that will spend the next six months studying the county's five-year funding needs and gaps and ultimately present consensus recommendations in a final report to the county.

Co-chaired by community leaders McKenna Long & Aldridge's Michael Levengood and Cisco's Bill McCargo, the initiative is called Engage Gwinnett: Citizens Committee on the Future of Gwinnett County, and it could be one of the most important initiatives Gwinnett has ever undertaken.

What is the purpose of this committee?

With declining revenue streams and public opposition to both millage rate increases as well as cuts to popular services, Engage Gwinnett is designed to bring the community together and intentionally and strategically involve residents and stakeholder groups in making informed recommendations to the Board of Commissioners on desired county programs, services, revenues and spending for the next five years.

Why is this initiative so important?

Gwinnett County has been very successful historically - we're one of only a handful of counties with a AAA rating by all major rating agencies - and continues to attract new businesses and residents because we've always planned well for our future needs and made this a great place to live.

But a combination of factors and the economic crisis has hit our local governments hard just as it has our families and businesses. Since 1990, the county has rolled back or held steady the millage rate while the growth continued and more and more capital projects have come online without the operational funds to keep pace with Gwinnett's growth. This problem has now been exacerbated by the historic negative economic conditions - the plummet of $1.4 billion in residential property tax values and recent acts by the cash-strapped state that removed another $20 million from county revenues - that have resulted in cuts that reduced service levels to those of 2003-04.

The Gwinnett Chamber believes that continued investment in our infrastructure and services like public safety, transportation, libraries and recreation, economic development, health and human services and more are essential to maintaining a world-class quality of life. This leads to job creation, which in turn leads to increased wealth for our residents and an expanded tax base for our public partners.

The recent combination of drastic cuts and lack of appropriate revenue to fund needed services jeopardizes our world-class quality of life, and we cannot let that happen.

How can I help?

To ensure an unbiased, objective analysis can be obtained by the public, we have contracted with the consulting firm Civic Strategies to manage the decision-making process. Anyone interested in serving on the committee should join us for our first public self-selection meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in the auditorium of the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. You may also donate financially to the Engage Gwinnett effort to help us get the word out and facilitate the ongoing process. For more information, visit www.gwinnettchamber.org/engagegwinnett.

The challenges facing Gwinnett County are not unique. Communities across the nation are facing the same historic problems. But it's how we, as residents, deal with these problems that make Gwinnett unique. Gwinnett has a celebrated history of coming together as a community to tackle tough issues head-on. That's the secret to our success. Partnering with our residents and public and private sector partners through this community project is the best way to collectively accomplish our long-term goals.

Jim Maran is president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.