Wilbanks to BOE: Tough economic times persist

SUWANEE — There may be signs that the nation is on the road to economic recovery, but in Gwinnett, there are still tough times ahead, Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks told the school board Thursday.

In years past, it would take Gwinnett longer to feel the effects of an economic slowdown, and the county would climb out of it faster than the rest of the state. But that’s not the case anymore, Wilbanks said.

“Gwinnett is (recovering) slower than the state, and Georgia is slower than the nation,” Wilbanks said. “We’ve never had that before ... and any hope of that happening is gone. The rest of the state is doing better than we are.

“We’re probably going to see our tax base shrink by about 20 percent by next year,” he said. “Very few counties in this state are seeing shrinking to that degree.”

With that in mind, Wilbanks said he’s prepared for “a new normal.”

Georgia’s got a new governor and a new state schools superintendent coming in, and Wilbanks said he’s looking forward to working with them.

“We’d like to be at the table whenever decisions are being made,” he said. “What’s good for Gwinnett County ought to be good for Georgia, and what’s good for Georgia ought to be good for Gwinnett County.”

At the county level, Wilbanks said there have also been some changes. He’s noticing an increase in the influence of the cities, something he expects to remain until stability returns to the county government.

“We were a county-dominated government, but now the cities are starting to have more influence and impact,” he said, “That’s neither good or bad for us, but it will be a difference in how we operate.”