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MARAN: A lot of hard work helped trim deficit

With today’s economic climate bringing challenges this country hasn’t had to face since the 1930s, I have to take a moment and commend those who are taking bold measures to ensure Gwinnett’s sustainability through them.

Just this week, the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners passed budget reduction measures that cut our $18 million shortfall to $2.2 million. And they did this by working harder than ever to maintain the strong pro-business and quality of life environment for which Gwinnett is so well known. It is, without a doubt, a sign that as the local economy improves Gwinnett will be strong, lean and positioned regionally and globally as a formidable competitor for high wage sustainable jobs.

But how did they do it? Well, they did it with the help of Gwinnett residents, like yourself, and county staff members. Last year, the Gwinnett Chamber worked with the county to create and drive a citizens recommendation committee called Engage Gwinnett. In the first eight months following the citizens committee, budget recommendations were made to the Board of Commissioners and executive staff. All of them have been considered and 42 have been acted on or are in the process of being implemented. Specific to the March 1 budget reductions, some of the implemented recommendations were:

• Reducing the county’s annual payroll by approximately $2.8 million through counting four of the eight remaining annual holidays as furlough days and not paying employees for those days off. Though this was an unwanted budget cut by all of the leadership involved in the decision-making process, it is with gratitude to the staff that this decision was made.

• Accepting $1.36 million in newly proposed budget reductions from a number of county departments, including an $847,000 reduction to the general fund, the elimination of seven vacant positions, advertising funds for employee recruitment and the cutting of part-time salaries in the police department. County departments were actively involved in making these recommendations, and their collaboration is to be commended.

• Realizing approximately $5 million in savings by reducing the county’s contributions to its Risk Management and Workers’ Compensation funds and its Fleet/Equipment Capital Project fund. These cuts were a direct result of a decrease in 2010 claims as well as a reduction to the number of county vehicles owned and operated in 2010.

• Paying off a 2002 general obligation bond and redirecting the 0.23 mill tax levy that had been dedicated to servicing the debt to general operations. This change would reallocate approximately $4.8 million from debt service to general operations.

These actions above were carefully considered, heavily weighed and incorporated with as minimal of an impact on residents and employees as was possible. And we cannot thank the staff at the county enough for its commitment to our community.

However, we are by no means out of the woods yet. We’ve seen challenging times, we’ve taken bold measures and we look ahead to continued solid leadership that will be able to make more tough decisions as shortfalls for 2011 approach and cost-reduction measures become once again imperative.

As a resident of Gwinnett and the head of Gwinnett’s business community, let me encourage everyone to get out a vote on March 15 for Gwinnett’s next wave of leadership. We are on the cusp of economic recovery, and solid leadership has never been more important. So, exercise your privilege and right as an American citizen and Gwinnettian and vote on the 15th.

Jim Maran is CEO and president of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.