County officials to approve 2010 spending plan today

With a tax increase in place to fund it, commissioners will debate the 2010 government spending plan today.

Officials have proposed a $1.3 billion budget for 2010, a decrease from last year even though it makes strides to add police officers and open fire stations left vacant by budget woes in the past year.

A year ago, Gwinnett began the year with an interim budget, but commissioners voted in March on an ambitious spending plan to hire hundreds of officers, a vote that required a tax increase. When protests from residents forced commissioners to stave off the increase, the budget had to be slashed.

But in December -- after interim tax bills had already been paid -- commissioners decided to raise taxes to restore the cuts to county services. Those moves will become official today, when the spending plan is approved.

The budget includes money for 58 police officers to fortify the force which lost dozens of officers to retirement, the opening of fire stations 29 and 30 and a replacement for Station 18 and full funding for the county prison, which was granted a reprieve from closure when the tax increase passed.

While many of the departments have laid off staff, the budget continues full funding of courts and public safety and restores money that would have been cut from libraries and subsidies.

During a public hearing on the spending plan last month, which was sparsely attended compared to earlier hearings on the millage rate, people asked the county to remain frugal.

"We need to make sure everything is cut to the bone," Lawrenceville man Ed Phillips said. "Things are very tedious at these times. There are certain things you shouldn't cut and those are police and fire. ... There are (other) things that are nice to have but we can't always afford them."