County, cities battle in court over service delivery, taxes

LAWRENCEVILLE -- A long-awaited trial between Gwinnett County and 15 municipal governments began Monday with a bitter start.

When the first witness was called, 12 of the first 17 questions brought objections, and Enotah Circuit Judge David Barrett soon lost his patience.

"Y'all snipping at each other is wearing me out. I'm tired of it," Barrett said toward the end of the first trial day. "Let's keep it like gentlemen."

The trial comes a year and a half after a service delivery agreement between the 16 governments expired with county and city officials bickering over services and city officials asking for a county tax break on services the city provides.

"The taxation issue is centerfold," attorney Andy Welch said in opening statements for the cities.

The first witness was Gwinnett Police Chief Charles Walters, who testified that services such as the SWAT team, bomb disposal unit, narcotics and crime suppression units were performed through Gwinnett County, regardless of boundary lines.

Welch argued that the county should have special agreements to work in cities where local police forces operate, but Walters said he believes the county force has jurisdiction throughout the county.

Also called to the witness stand Monday were Assistant Police Chief Tom Savage, Transportation Director Brian Allen and Assistant Transportation Director Kim Conroy, all of Gwinnett County.

Attorneys for the county are expected to wrap up their case in the next day or two. Then local mayors may begin to take the stand.