Engage Gwinnett looks at cuts

DULUTH -- Community members agree that cutting services should be the first thing commissioners turn to if the economy causes another huge dip in the tax digest.

The next steps, though, will be determined in an e-mail survey of Engage Gwinnett members, as the group prepares to issue a final report.

"If you drastically start cutting their pay, you are going to lose many good, experienced (police) officers," committee member Scott LeCraw said, as the group weighed the advantages and disadvantages of cutting salaries, closing parks and libraries and other options to balance a drastically reduced budget. "I think it's got to be a blend (of approaches)."

After months of exploring ways to balance revenues and spending, officials turned toward a worse scenario, in case falling property values are even greater than officials predict.

While cutting costs was the No. 1 method, some group members said additional fees wouldn't raise enough money, millage rate increases could hamper business development, policy changes and sales taxes may not have much of an impact and the use of reserve funds could drain county finances.

"It may be uncomfortable, but we need to start making these decisions," Charles Swain said, adding that tax increases could be tricky. "We're not sure what the schools are planning to do. There could be a whole other increase coming to us from another side."

Norwood Davis, a church financial officer who is a member of the community services work group, lined out a matrix that could fulfill concerns over public safety while making steep cuts to parks and libraries and adding a tax increase of about 0.3 mills.

"There's no easy way to do it. We have to make a hard decision as a county," he said.

"We recognize that of significant importance to the citizens of Gwinnett County was preserving public safety and the courts, preserving law enforcement and preserving fire and emergency services."

The group is expected to vote on the proposed report April 13, with a final public hearing planned for April 17. The report would be presented to commissioners later that month.