EDITOR’S NOTE: This column first appeared in GwinnettForum.
Buford’s Philip Beard feels that he has not one, but two distinctions: he has served consecutively as a city official for 46 years, longer than anyone in Gwinnett. He’ll start his 47th year on Sept. 1. All this time he has been the chairman of the City Commission, and also chairman of the Buford City Schools Board.
His other distinction: he has perfect attendance on the Buford city commission, having never missed a meeting since he was sworn in on September 1, 1975. He led a list of six candidates in the special election to replace East Robinson August 13, then won a runoff two weeks later, beating Tom Ed Robinson 620-471.
Beard, now age 80, says: “People let me stay in the office. I have been healthy my whole life. The only reason I didn’t have perfect attendance at school is that they sent me home on a Monday when I was in the fourth grade with the mumps and I missed that week. And I missed a half a day when my grandfather Harvey Beard died.”
While in service to Buford, Beard has built a city with a strong financial status. The budget for the City of Buford is the largest in Gwinnett, at $167 million for 2021.
His city services include expansive gas and electrical enterprise funds, serving more customers outside of Buford than are in the city limits. The city also operates its own water and sewer system, having put in the city water system back since 1932 when the water came from the Chattahoochee River. When Lake Lanier was built, Buford got its own intake for water.
Buford has continually updated its utilities. “We just broke ground on a new $20 million water facility. Our new contract with Lake Lanier allows us to pull 4.85 million gallons of water a day (mgd) from the lake, and on average we use only 1.5 mgd. It’s all new technology, a push-button operation. Our infrastructure is top-notch, not decayed.”
On sewer: “The city was put under order to up our sewage capacity to three million gallons a day. That was going to cost $30-$40 million to do that, so we talked to the county. We bought capacity from Gwinnett County for $16.5 million. That saved us money ,and we may never need that capacity.”
There was a turndown for Buford in the late 70s. “We were short of funds in every area, not even having enough for payroll. We took a long look at it, and asked ourselves, should we keep our schools or our police force? Turned out, it was an easy decision to make. We eliminated our police force, and let the county police us.
“Since then we have put all our resources into the school district. We charge 12.6 mills in taxes for our schools, but have no taxes on ad valorem property for city operations. The utilities pay for themselves. We even make money off commercial garbage in our landfill, which gives us host fees of $2.5 million annually. Everything goes back into city projects, like our new city hall, our community center and parks.”
Beard anticipates that the new Buford census figures will be, “around 20,00, at least 16-17,000 residents. We have had a considerable growth, especially on larger homes. Many move here to have their children in our city school system, which now has 5,600 students.”
Beard has another distinction. He is among three Gwinnettians in the Georgia Municipal Association’s Hall of Fame, named in 2007. The two others are Lillian Webb (1982) of Norcross and Linda Bechinger of Auburn (2019).