LAWRENCEVILLE -- Chairwoman Charlotte Nash has trimmed a $35 million budget gap for 2012 to about $5 million, about six weeks before commissioners consider adopting the spending plan.
The proposed 2012 spending plan for Gwinnett's government, which was released Tuesday, does little to county services, although the county's police and fire department will wait another year before filling 25 vacancies each.
Nash hopes to cut the remaining $5 million before the board considers the budget at its Jan. 3 meeting.
But with foreclosures still rampant and a precarious world economy with the impending economic collapses in Italy and Greece, next year's tax-increase-free proposal could be the last before drastic changes come, officials said.
"We've got a little bit of breathing room, an oasis," Nash said of the proposed budget, where many departments were able to find their own ways to trim spending.
In 2012, officials project another 8 percent drop, or $24 million, in revenues, mostly due to a continued fall in the value of homes and businesses. Leaders had initially thought the poor economy would bottom out in 2012, and revenues would begin to increase, but current events show that may not be the case.
"The low-hanging fruit has definitely been picked," said Laurie McClain, a certified public accountant who served on a citizens board reviewing the budget proposal. "We did all that we can do."
"We've obviously got some very tough years to come," added another panelist, David Crews, the former chief financial officer of the local school system.
Maria Woods, the county's finance director, said some of the 2012 spending proposals cannot be continued, including zeroing out an annual contribution to capital projects.
With no pay raises, yet no furlough days for staffers, the moves allow the county to hold onto its two-month reserve fund at least through 2016. That is, unless the economy has another downward spiral.
"I think we're very, very fortunate to be in a position where we can do this and be more stable," Nash said. "But we can't just set it on auto-pilot and let it run its course."