Earmark may signal end to service delivery dispute

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

LAWRENCEVILLE -- An earmark in a proposed budget reconciliation could be an indication that a settlement is near in Gwinnett's yearslong service delivery dispute

Officials would not specifically address a $372,136 appropriations earmark labeled as a "payment to other governmental agencies" in the proposed 2011 reconciliation budget released Tuesday.

"It relates to litigation and our lips are sealed," Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said.

Deputy County Administrator Aaron Bovos said that the approval of the reconciliation budget, scheduled for next week, would not mean that the money is promised, only that it has been set aside.

"That is a payment we are contemplating based on current litigation," he said.

Bucky Johnson, the mayor of Norcross who has led the court battle for 14 of Gwinnett's 15 cities, said he was not aware of the budget item.

Since a state-mandated agreement outlining which governments would provide certain services expired in 2008, the agencies have been locked in a stalemate. The case went to trial 10 months ago, but a judge has yet to rule, causing all of the agencies to lose their qualified local government status.

With the resignation of Chairman Charles Bannister, leaders have said they hope to return to settlement talks with newly elected Chairwoman Nash. Johnson said a sit-down with all the leaders is scheduled for early July.

"Until I know the details I would be premature to comment," he said. "That's interesting."

The $372,136 earmark is not the only change to the 2011 county budget due to the deadlock.

In January, local police agencies lost the ability to use radar guns to clock speeders, after losing their qualified local government status.

Bovos said he could not quantify the exact loss to revenues, since sheriff's deputies have been using radar guns and police officers can still catch speeders through pacing.

But as part of the annual reconciliation process, officials are downgrading a projection of fines generated through county courts by $1.3 million, a nearly 10 percent decrease from the original projection, because of a decrease in traffic tickets, Bovos said.

Johnson said Norcross hasn't had to adjust its budget because of the change.

"We were able to see that coming. We're not getting much from the radar," he said.