BOC OKs 2010 budget

LAWRENCEVILLE -- With the adoption of a 2010 county government budget Tuesday, Gwinnett's public safety has been restored from cuts mandated by the economy last year.

While the $1.3 billion budget calls for the reinstatement of 58 police officers, the continued funding of the county prison and opening of three fire stations and the Hamilton Mill library branch, all of which had been delayed by budget cuts, the vote wasn't without controversy.

Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said a re-write of the document after it was vetted by the public in December was wrong, especially since it meant the second delay of design funds for a community park for the Archer cluster.

Despite Beaudreau's objections, commissioners approved the $6 million in changes, which also included money for a study on privatizing the airport and shifts the $1.2 million slated for Archer's park to Lilburn's Lions Club Park.

"How can we leave one group of kids without a park to use?" Beaudreau said, questioning the government's transparency. He also claimed the move was political retribution, since he voted against a controversial tax increase last month.

Officials refuted Beaudreau's claims that the budget could not be changed after its Dec. 1 unveiling without formally adopting amendments.

But Rick Sammonds of the Archer Athletic Association said the politicians "stop short" of asking whether the move is ethically right.

"If your hearts were in the right place, this would not have happened," he said.

After the December passage of a millage rate increase to raise revenues and shore up the county's finances, Chairman Charles Bannister said the budget allows the government to keep intact basic services.

"It leaves a lot of holes, and it leaves some promises," he said. "We really would like to do more but we can't."

With an expected decline in commercial property values and more hard-to-predict economic factors, Bannister said more cuts may have to be made in the future. But he would ask the General Assembly to consider an arrangement to allow for sales taxes to be used for operations.

"In the meantime, I will support this budget, that I believe will allow us to weather the economic storm," he said.

After the public discord between Bannister and Beaudreau, Commissioner Shirley Lasseter said officials should work together, as they did in tackling an $84 million budget gap in place when she took office a year ago.

"Not everybody's park and everybody's library is going to be open. We are a work in progress," she said. "We've come a long way and we're going to (continue) as long as we are still together as a team."