LAWRENCEVILLE -- Under a new agreement approved by the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, the funds contributed to Partnership Gwinnett will be public.
A progress and financial report for the new nonprofit entity, along with a Board of Directors formed by the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce will be approved by the county. It would also keep the money separate from the chamber's private donations.
"Their records will be open to an open records process so the county and the public will be aware of how those funds are used," said Bryan Lackey, director of the county's planning and development department.
Commissioner Mike Beaudreau lauded the success of the Partnership Gwinnett program, an economic development initiative of the Chamber. Lackey said he's reviewed other similar programs across the country, how they operate and compared them to the Gwinnett program.
"I do believe that this type of program is the most efficient and effective program when a community like Gwinnett decides they want to pursue economic development," Lackey said.
This decision, which was approved at a zoning hearing at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, comes about a week after government watchdog Sabrina Smith of Citizens for Responsible Government filed a lawsuit seeking records from the county and chamber over the payments, which totaled $3 million in the past six years.
Attorney Chris McClurg said the filing is a precursor to a suit that will name commissioners, school board members and chamber President Jim Maran personally, seeking them to reimburse the money to county coffers.
The county school system has paid for two economic development positions at a cost of $150,000 annually for the past several years.
McClurg has questioned the timing of the separation of funds. Earlier this year, the co-mingling of public funds with the chamber's private dollars were used to pay for campaigns for a regional transportation sales tax and against a charter school amendment.
"I think it's a little too little, a little too late," he said Monday. "My client thinks Gwinnett citizens want their money back."
Also at the hearing, the BOC approved a replacement excise tax and agreement between the county and 16 cities, and Chairwoman Charlotte Nash added that there should be an annual review of proceeds collected and cost of administration, although officials are unsure of the amount.
The law, adopted by the General Assembly earlier this year in an attempt to create a more business-friendly environment in Georgia and draw jobs, would give manufacturers a break on state and local sales taxes on energy resources, including electricity, natural gas, oil and other types of fuel. A phaseout of the taxes will begin next year and be complete in 2016.
But to make sure that local governments didn't suffer from a loss of revenue, legislators agreed to allow counties and cities to impose an excise tax on energy equal to the amount of money lost in local sales taxes, according to information from the Association County Commissioners of Georgia. The association said the excise tax can be used for any purpose, unlike sales taxes, which must be used for capital projects.
The BOC also approved a zoning request for about 43 acres of property owned by Senior Judge Homer Stark and his wife, Mary, to develop a shopping center at the 1100 block of Scenic Highway in Lawrenceville.
Senior writer Camie Young contributed to this article.