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Chamber program draws fire amid T-SPLOST debate

DULUTH -- With the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce leading the local movement to approve a controversial transportation tax, a group of citizen watchdogs called Thursday for the suspension of taxpayer funds to go to the organization. Changes are already in the works, leaders said.

"We want to know how the taxpayer money is spent and what the benefit is," said Sabrina Smith of Gwinnett Citizen for Responsible Government, referring to the five-year-old Partnership Gwinnett program, which the Chamber leads with $500,000 in annual donations from the county government, $150,000 each year from Gwinnett County Public Schools and funds from local cities and community improvement districts, as well as private donations.

The main complaint from the group is that a conflict of interest exists, since the Chamber of Commerce is a lobbying body.

"They are turning around, using our tax dollars to lobby against us," said James Bell of the Georgia Taxpayers Alliance, an organization that is campaigning to get people to vote no on the tax referendum Tuesday.

Gwinnett Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said she began discussions to improve transparency several months ago.

While Chamber officials declined to comment, saying a press release would be issued Friday, Nash said the county reached an agreement with the group to create a separate nonprofit for the Partnership Gwinnett program, so funds are no longer co-mingled with regular Chamber activities.

The two organizations have not signed an agreement for 2012, but Nash said the county has budgeted $500,000 for the program this year and plans to continue its involvement with the partnership, which Chamber leaders claim has brought 280 businesses to Gwinnett, created 12,000 jobs and generated $800 million in economic activity. The program is credited with drawing major companies including NCR to the county.

"I think that's one of the things that has distinguished Gwinnett's economic development efforts of the past few years," Nash said of the cooperation displayed by leaders of every sector working together on goals. "In the tough economic competition we've had, anything that you can do to distinguish your community is good."

Due to funding restrictions, the public school system does not make a direct contribution to the program, but it does fund two employee positions who work on economic development, totalling $150,000 each year.

"Our focus has been and remains on educating children. It does take money to do that," GCPS spokeswoman Sloan Roach said. "These positions work to increase the property tax base (our only source of local revenue), thus increasing the funds we have to put toward teaching and learning. We feel this has been a good investment that has reaped benefits for our county and our students; otherwise, we wouldn't be involved."

Comments

SabrinaWorks247 2 years, 5 months ago

I would ask that Sloan Roach release a statement explaining how they determined that they got $6 million in return for paying the salaries of 2 Gwinnett Chamber employees. That truly is an amazing return on investment! Open records responses from GCPS show that an evaluation of the program benefits was never done and school administrators admitted that they had never asked the Gwinnett Chamber to explain the claim of $800 million in economic activity. Open records responses show that the School Board never voted to approve this and a written statement said that Superintendent Wilbanks had the authority to approve this without a board vote. We were provided with a statement that no minutes exist of any board meeting where this was discussed. There is no contract between the Gwinnett Chamber and GCPS. The only documentation is an annual invoice submitted by the Chamber and a check sent in return.

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NewsReader 2 years, 5 months ago

Well Sloan, it looks like Sabrina's got your number on this one. Either show us, the taxpayers, something or shut it down.

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dentaldawg83 2 years, 5 months ago

"These positions work to increase the property tax base (our only source of local revenue)"

ummmm didn't we continually vote in a TSPLOST tax to go to the schools?...

what am I missing here?..

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NewsReader 2 years, 5 months ago

TSPLOST is Transportation Tax. ESPLOST is for Education Tax. And of course, we have another SPLOST that is for the county to build grand buildings and such and Libraries we cannot afford to staff and Fire Stations we cannot afford to fill, etc. It's just another tax for ya to go along with the HOT lane tax to subsidize the gas taxes you've already paid to build the road. It's all for the good of our rising socialist nation we are fast becoming!

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dentaldawg83 2 years, 5 months ago

but the statement that property tax is the only source of local revenue is simply incorrect, right?

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Karl 2 years, 5 months ago

You are correct, dentaldawg83, not only does the school system get millions from ESPLOST there is also a boatload of money which they receive from the state.

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NewsReader 2 years, 5 months ago

Oh, and don't forget the Broad Prize and the windfall from Race to the top or some other such nonsense whatever it is called!

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rco1847 2 years, 4 months ago

Thanks to our Republican leadership in Gwinnett and Georgia.

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notblind 2 years, 5 months ago

The goobermint and tax money is like a dope addict and dope.

The more money you give the goobermint the more they want. Instead of budgeting and planning for a certain amount they spend all their time [ plus tax dollars ] trying to figure out new ways to get more money of of the taxpayers.

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rco1847 2 years, 4 months ago

And the Chamber of Communists have been getting gooberment money big time.

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BuzzG 2 years, 5 months ago

I have the same problem with Georgia Power. Georgia Power gives to causes that politicians want and then politicians grant Georgia Power a rate increase. It is not hard to connect the dots and doing so will reveal a pattern of corruption and dishonesty.

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roaads1 2 years, 5 months ago

That's almost a backdoor tax Buzz. Thanks for pointing that out.

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gregmack 2 years, 5 months ago

Apparently with Obama as president executing his administration according to form of government we have, we are finding areas in the operation of our government that need reform (it would be naive too think Obama has caused all of this) - but we have to cautiously move forward and not throw out the baby with the bath water. There are many good leaders in Gwinnett and a lot of good staff working with these leaders in education, municipalities, civic and other organizations. It would be an incredible effort for all these leaders and organizations to be working together against tax payers and the average citizen. I agree with some of the concerns raised, but almost 50 years of living has taught me that there is more to it than what is on the surface. Along with these leaders, there are many good elected officials, so if we raise these concerns in a constructive manner and encourage working together, then change for the better will have a greater chance. Let's not be too quick to point out bad decisions and mismanagement and at the same time carrying high credit card debt, living above our means and not having a sound financial foundation within our own homes and families. We are all guilty directly and indirectly which is not an excuse, but rather an understanding of the environment and frame work we all are working within.

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teelee 2 years, 5 months ago

This country is heading towards a financial cliff and they expect us to vote for yet another tax increase? The local governments can make do with what they have already, just like me and my family have to. They are already making millions everyday all around the state with gasoline taxes and everything else. Go ask Obama where the trillions of dollars in stimulus money went!

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kevin 2 years, 5 months ago

Nash only allows us so much transparency, or whatever she feels is "enough." Folks, enjoy the ride for 4 more years like this. When a candidate for re-election gets no competition, you are stuck with the same underhanded management and waste of our tax money. This same BOC is set to raise your tax rates next month. What a collusion we have in Gwinnett County. It is close to the point of more politicians getting caught or moving to another county to get away from the corruption that never seems to be going away. Just like the "poor" library system. They spend your money advertising in the Gwinnett Forum and now this. Isn't there a law preventing politicians from forcing government employees to vote against their wishes also? So much for the "innocent" Nash and company.

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SciBlue 2 years, 5 months ago

I am eagerly awaiting Ms. Roach explanation regarding exactly how GCPS got a $6,000,000 return on a $150,000 investment. With such amazing ROI I guess teachers will not get furloughed this year, they will finally get the raise they have not received in years, and, most importantly, administrators will no longer have to stuff 30+ kids into a classroom.

This would be wonderful news for the students and teachers of GCPS. We all know, however, that there's no way GCPS got that much money. We have NO BUSINESS paying the salary of any Chamber of Commerce people, NONE! Money collected for schools should go to the schools. Period.

Transparency in any form of government? Are you kidding me?

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SabrinaWorks247 2 years, 4 months ago

If you would like to let the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education know how you feel about the millions of your tax dollars given to the Gwinnett Chamber, sign this petition:

http://www.change.org/petitions/chairman-gwinnett-county-board-of-commissioners-account-for-the-millions-given-to-the-gwinnett-chamber-of-commerce

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rco1847 2 years, 4 months ago

The Chamber of Communists shouldn't be getting tax payer funds in the first place. These bass turds helped creat this economic mess and encouraged the exportation of American jobs. If China ia so great let's send them there.

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rco1847 2 years, 4 months ago

GWINNETT CHAMBER OF COMMUNISTS LEADS THE WAY: In finding new ways to tax and spend the people money.

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Mack711 2 years, 4 months ago

Gwinnett county was trying to find ways of cutting costs recently. Why did they not cut the Chamber out? What have they done for the benefit of the working person in the county. Business also donate to the chamber and that is a good thing. but for them to use our tax money and our school money is not the thing to do.

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JohnGalt 2 years, 4 months ago

I would like for a special grand jury to investigate the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. I smell very large rat(s) there.

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kevin 2 years, 4 months ago

it is not surprising that people are in outrage only after some dirty facts are presented to them in print. People have been writing about these crooks for years but no one listens. That is why we are in the shape we are in. No one wants to keep informed about what political groups are doing together. Stop re-electing people. Evidently the voters remain stupid as they have re-elected many this past Tuesday.

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