Judge holds off sanctions in service delivery dispute

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County and its residents have been given another reprieve on state sanctions for failing to reach a service delivery agreement.

A judge considering a lawsuit between the 16 governments issued a new order holding the sanctions in abeyance until the legal matter is solved, Deputy County Administrator Mike Comer said.

A previous order involving the sanctions, which was issued shortly after the governments missed a Feb. 28 deadline on reaching a new 10-year service delivery strategy, expired after the sides ended mediation talks.

Comer said city officials requested the new order to expire 30 days after the judge rules on an issue involving the use of revenues collected only in unincorporated areas, but the judge ruled with the county, deciding against an expiration date.

"The judge saw fit to extend that request and give us time while we are continuing to solve the issues with the cities," Chairman Charles Bannister said. "That's a good thing."

According to state law, a failure to file a service delivery agreement between counties and cities means the governments are stripped of their "qualified local government status" and no longer qualify for state grants.

Now, both sides are awaiting the partial summary judgment ruling on unincorporated revenues, which was a key in the debate on whether the county could impose higher property tax rates in cities than in unincorporated areas.

"Sanctions ultimately just hurt the citizens, and I am pleased the judge agreed with the county's position," newly named County Administrator Glenn Stephens said. "The judge's action is in line with our goal to work towards a service delivery solution for every resident in Gwinnett County without losing the necessary funding that benefits Gwinnett County and its cities."