LAWRENCEVILLE -- Creating a billion dollar budget is never easy. But this year there were a few more kinks to factor into the equation.
On Tuesday, Chairwoman Charlotte Nash will present her recommended 2013 spending plan for the county government to other commissioners. The presentation was originally scheduled for the beginning of November, but officials took a few more weeks to work the numbers before the Dec. 1 deadline required by county legislation.
While she declined to give any details before Tuesday, Nash talked about the factors that are going into the figures.
Much of the delay, she said, came from a decision to wait until after this year's election because of uncertainty in the economy. Nash said she wanted to know the outcome of the election and the reaction of the financial markets to it.
"We have spent the last two weeks combing back through the budget and confirming our five-year forecasts," said Nash, who has played a hand in many county budgets as the government finance manager and county administrator before her election as chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners.
In the past several years, the economy has forced the government to cut expenses, and 2013 will be no different. Nash said the budget was built on the assumption that the county tax digest will drop another 2 percent due to still-declining property values.
"The national economy continues to struggle," Nash said. "If it slows again, then we will feel that effect here in Gwinnett. The level of uncertainty meant that we had to be very cautious in our cost analysis and revenue projections."
On top of that, the budget document, which is usually several dozen pages long, will be even longer due to the new accounting methods outlined in the settlement of a three-year-long dispute with local cities.
The settlement, which ensures that residents do not pay county taxes for services that their city government provides, means that county departments will have several pools of funding, all of which have to be analyzed for their tax revenue.
"The implementation of provisions of the consent order for the Service Delivery Strategy dispute with the cities contributed to the complexity and extra work required this year," Nash said. "Essentially, separate service districts, funds and budgets had to be established for three functions: fire, police and development. Thus, general fund had to be split into four separate funds. The service area and funding structure of each of the new districts are unique, and none of them are countywide. The consent order constrained how services were to be structured and how they were to be funded."
Not to be outdone by the established cities, the creation of a city government in Peachtree Corners in 2012 also has a bearing on the services and revenues for the county, Nash noted.
Officials had to weigh the impact of federal and state legislation, she added, with the pending implementation of the Affordable Care Act accounting for an expected jump in the cost of health insurance for county employees in the coming year.
"Even beneficial legislation that is needed can have cost impacts," Nash said. "For example, the tax commissioner and tax assessors offices requested about $1 million to address the extra effort they expect will be generated by the phased switch from annual vehicle ad valorem taxes to an excise tax paid up front. There are also potential cost impacts for the criminal justice system related to judicial reform."
Commissioners will have just over a month to consider the proposal before a scheduled vote in January. Residents can sound off on the plan at a Dec. 10 hearing. Nash encourages people to view department budget presentations on the county website for more background on the proposal.
"While I would have liked to finalize the proposed budget earlier, it clearly was more important to ensure that it was based on the latest information and soundest analysis possible," she said.