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Maintenance key for water, transportation, officials say

LAWRENCEVILLE — After years of building a suburban water and sewer system, Gwinnett officials said Friday the government has switched focus to maintaining the $6 billion in assets, half of which are under ground.

With a budget team pouring over the numbers this week, officials said much of the water and sewer projects in 2014 will be dedicated to rehab projects.

The focus is much different than a decade ago, when only 12 percent of the capital budget was dedicated to maintenance. In 2014, Deputy Director Tyler Richards said 91 percent is earmarked for the task.

Recently, the department has been reorganized so that maintenance efforts for “linear assets” like water and sewer pipes could be approached more proactively. Officials are working toward a reorganization to help maintain the “vertical assets,” which include treatment plants.

As part of the hearings to Chairwoman Charlotte Nash and a team of residents, officials said maintenance could also become an issue in transportation, if local and state funding dries up.

Transportation Director Kim Conroy said the county’s roads have thrived under a resurfacing program. In 2013, the county dedicated about $14 million in state and local funds to repave 150 miles of roads.

But state funding has been dwindling, and this year voters have to go to the polls to consider whether a 1-percent sales tax will continue. That program brought about $10 million of the resurfacing funds for 2013.

“If one or both of those funds isn’t available, this will be a challenge for us,” Conroy said.

After the meeting, Nash said she plans to prepare two budget documents, one for if the referendum passes and another if it does not.

If it does not, she said, some money would have to be found elsewhere for resurfacing.

“It’ll be very, very hard to pull $10 million out of operating (budget) and put it into resurfacing, but we know there will have to be some money set aside for this,” Nash said. “It’ll be hard to scrape for dollars for resurfacing.”