LAWRENCEVILLE -- With a more than $30 million budget gap looming for Gwinnett's government in 2012, the local police force plans to use drug forfeiture funds to pay for some needed expense.
"Frankly, the rainy day is here," Police Chief Charles Walters said Wednesday of using the money set aside for years because it is not guaranteed each year.
While some of the funds are only allowed for drug investigations, Walters plans to use some of the money for expenses like two police dogs, an X-ray machine for the medical examiner, patrol rifles, repair of animal control kennels and even cell phone service and $1 million for gasoline.
In a presentation to a citizens and staff committee planning the county's 2012 spending plan, Walters said recent decisions to beef up the number of police officers on the street has resulted in a 20 percent reduction in violent crime. But the chief said he simply hopes to maintain the current force in 2012.
In public safety presentations throughout the day Wednesday, officials asked to keep the same number of sheriff's deputies, corrections officers and firefighters.
In fact, with the land and even fire engine purchased for a new fire station by growing Georgia Gwinnett College, Fire Chief Bill Myers presented a plan to keep 25 firefighter positions frozen instead of adding the 42 needed to man a new station.
"We need (the planned) 35 fire stations to truly meet the requirements we have set for ourselves and an ambulance at every fire station," Myers said of the original plans that have halted with 30 station. "I'm not even asking for that (31st station)."
In the second day of hearings over the budget plan, Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said she was proud of the staff's attempts to keep costs low and find creative ways to fill needs, such as using the drug funds.
"They've been very thoughtfuul with ways to spend the money on essential services," said Nash, who spent decades working on the county budget in a growing economy as a staffer herself but is presiding over her first budget proposal since taking office earlier this year.
Another example of a creative approach is the possibility of adding five crews of inmates from the county prison to cut lawns at police precincts and fire stations and to even test fire hydrants.
"What they have been through the last three years ..." Nash said of the shrinking tax base that has lead to millions in cuts. "They already have in mind some ways to offer up to bridge the gap."