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Budget woes: Residents can help with cuts

LAWRENCEVILLE -- If declining tax revenues force furloughs or close county facilities, volunteers could help bridge the gap in government services, members of a citizens study committee told commissioners Tuesday.

"What we found is the public is pretty happy with the service levels they receive," Engage Gwinnett Co-chair Mike Levengood said of the nearly 100-page report, which stresses a moderate tax increase before a major shift in services.

With most of the county's expenses tied to public safety, courts, fire and emergency medical services, committee members were reluctant to slice into county funding. But if major cuts have to be made, they said, volunteers could help with everything from mowing the outfield at county parks to helping fight fires.

Norwood Davis, a church pastor who served on the committee, said a countywide approach should seek to encourage 1 million volunteer hours a year.

While Commissioner Mike Beaudreau questioned the study of subsidized agencies, commissioners thanked the group for its effort but refrained from saying which recommendations would be considered.

"We've got to look through these things between other people's eyes," Commissioner Kevin Kenerly said. "It's very difficult."

Despite a tax increase in late 2009, officials learned last week that a decline in property values could mean another budget gap this year. Commissioner Bert Nasuti said the report would help in determining how to fill it.

"I think the prioritization in here is helpful to us," he said, pointing to a desire to keep intact public safety services over community services. "My hope is we don't have to close anything."

Chairman Charles Bannister said the 42 committee members will be called on for clarification and advice, as commissioners weigh their options.

"This is a difficult process that is in front of us," he said. "Government is huge and it's important and it's important in different ways to different people.

"I personally believe this is a huge benefit. It may very well be a way of the future."