Suwanee officials express relief over service delivery settlement

SUWANEE -- In the hours and days following this week's settlement of the ongoing service delivery dispute, Suwanee leaders mostly had the same response: pride and relief.

They expressed pride that county and city leaders could put aside hard feelings, and work to find a resolution to the three-year dispute that centered on paying for police, fire and 911 services. The leaders are relieved that an issue that enveloped 15 cities and the county could be resolved without further court proceedings and negotiations.

"That was a really good feeling," Suwanee Mayor Jimmy Burnette said. "It's kind of like the day-after-a-big-game feeling. You rest on what you've got done, and see how it all plays out in the next few weeks."

Suwanee City Manager Marty Allen said the length of time it took to reach the resolution was directly related to the variables, such as the amount of the settlement and the number of parties involved.

"It's a complicated, complex issue, and it required a complicated, complex solution," Allen said. "We have a solid solution that's not a band-aid."

What's next is discussions on how Suwanee would use its portion of the $31 million that's to be divided among the cities. The formula to reach the amount each city receives has not been determined, but will be prior to May 1, Allen said.

"It's better than what we originally hoped for," councilman Doug Ireland said. "We ended up ahead of where we wanted to be."

As Burnette and city council members begin work on the 2013 fiscal year budget, Allen said the settlement timing works well to incorporate this information as they begin a new budget season.

Since the council hasn't met about options to budget for the new money, council members only spoke in broad terms.

"I'm certain reducing taxes will be on the table," Ireland said.

One turning point in the situation that led to the settlement came in March when Charlotte Nash was elected chairman of the Board of Commissioners.

"What it demonstrates is we have quality leadership that can bring these diversions to an equitable conclusion," councilman Dick Goodman said. "That didn't seem to be able to happen until a change of county leadership."

Added Burnette, "Once Chairman Nash was elected, we knew she'd be willing to step it up to get this resolved."

While Allen noted that residents would see little change in day-to-day activities, the discussions brought an improved relationship, more data sharing and overall clarity between the county and city for 911 and dispatch services.

One secondary part of the settlement is that the Suwanee police can use radar detection again, once the city reapplies for a state-issued permit. When the entities failed to reach an agreement on service delivery last year, sanctions included loss of qualified local government status, state grants and permits and use of police radar equipment.

And while some point to loss of revenue from speeding tickets, Ireland said that's a misnomer.

"It's not because of revenue, we're trying to find bad guys," said Ireland, who added that part of pulling over speeders could be an entry point to discovering more serious crimes.