SUWANEE -- While the questions and concerns ranged from property taxes to fire hydrants and garbage fees, the common theme throughout a town hall meeting with county commissioners was interest in Gwinnett's future.
"We all want the best we can have for the community," Board Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said more than once.
Commissioner John Heard also noted a soon-to-be-created panel of community members that will discuss new ideas to address land use and school planning and districting to make, "a better student, a better community and a better tax base."About 50 county residents attended the nearly two-hour meeting at the George Pierce Park Community Center in Suwanee on Tuesday as the five members of Gwinnett's Board of Commission put on another in series of meetings around the county.The commissioners will continue the series at Grayson High School this evening, and at Lucky Shoals Park in Norcross on May 9.
Nash has said the events are designed to rebuild public trust in the wake of corruption scandals involving former commissioners. Representatives from several county departments were also available to answer residents' questions.
The first of 10 residents asked the commissioners about placing a lien on a property after non-payment of a trash bill. Nash and Commissioners Heard and Tommy Hunter said the county has five existing garbage contracts that run through 2018, which makes it difficult to change any procedure. They added that the original garbage fee issue was addressed to overcome an illegal dumping problem.
Another resident received clarifications and assurances about revisions to the county's land acquisition procedures, along with upgrading green electronics that were recently each voted on or revised.
Several residents noted sagging property values, which the BOC noted was one reason some parks and recreation operations have seen a reduction in funds.
But one man, Joe Briggs, who recently moved to Suwanee from New Hampshire, expressed his concern about three multi-family housing units in Gwinnett that are being built or scheduled to open soon. He said the town of Manchester, N.H., saw a dilution of property values that led to a stress on school systems as well as an uptick in crime.
Because of the way schools are funded at the county level, Briggs said the apartment complexes, which are "tax negative," could lead to teacher layoffs.
"I'm very vigilant about that," Briggs said. "I've done the math and ... so I take it with great concern, when I look around and see, not rental property, but apartment complexes and very, very large apartment complexes. A dilution by a major apartment building in Norcross is going to affect my property tax bill and how my schools are funded. If someone builds an apartment building in Duluth, they're going to lay off five teachers at North Gwinnett to pay for it."
Briggs said the rise in the building multi-family housing units is based on a business model where the developers essentially don't have to pay full taxes, or can skip out on paying school taxes.
Briggs added that property values are only worth as much of the reputation of the closest elementary school.
Heard said he attended a recent meeting with Gwinnett County Public Schools officials and Lawrenceville City Council members to begin a dialogue about this issue.
Heard invited Briggs to join the panel of community members to hopefully avoid the potential problem he described.