Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said she wanted her first county budget proposal since taking office to address an array of community needs ranging from human services, to transit expansion, increased public safety and better access to elections materials.
Hendrickson’s $2.06 billion proposed 2022 county budget was unveiled to her fellow commissioners on Tuesday. Among the items in the budget is the addition of 151 employees, with 30 of them being new police officer positions, as well as more than $2 million for transit expansion and a 4% pay-for-performance salary increase for county employees on their work anniversary dates.
“I wanted to make sure with this budget that we were really addressing the community’s priorities,” Hendrickson said. “This budget really takes steps to address a lot of the community needs, such as the expansion of human services, such as addressing our issues around poverty, addressing language equity in our elections process.
“And, in spirit of reprioritizing our efforts to focus on some of those issues, we’re still able to propose a fiscally sound and balanced budget without having to raise taxes. I’m proud of that. I’m proud of our staff and I’m proud of our citizens who gave input in that process.”
The proposed budget is expected to be posted online for public inspection at gwinnettcounty.com, and a public hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 6 at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. It is the largest budget in the county’s history and follows a trend of gradually increasing budgets that began under former commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash.
County officials said anticipated revenues in 2022 are expected to be up by 10.9%, but the proposed expenditures are expected to grow by only 7.8% from this year.
Some of the big items in the proposed budget are the transit expansion and elections materials being offered in more languages as well as more staff in multiple departments.
In the area of transit, Gwinnett Financial Services Director Buffy Alexzulian told commissioners the budget includes more than $2 million that will be part of a multi-year expansion of Gwinnett County Transit’s services. The expansion includes new transit routes, including microtransit.
“After three years, this expansion will increase local bus service by 58%, commuter bus service by 20% and paratransit services by 40%,” Alexzulian said.
The budget presentation did not include a list of of specific routes, but officials from the county’s transportation department told a budget review committee earlier this year that they wanted to add five routes providing local bus services in areas such as Snellville, Buford and Suwanee.
The request also includes microtransit in Snellville.
In terms of additional languages for elections materials, the county already provides materials in Spanish under the federal mandate, but Hendrickson said officials are looking at offering the materials in four Asian languages as well.
“We’re going to be benchmarking this off of the top languages that are spoken in the county, and that’s based off of our Census numbers,” Hendrickson said. “Spanish is a language that’s already required. We also looking at adding Korean, Vietnamese and two dialects of Chinese, which include Mandarin and Cantonese.
“We chose those languages because it mirror what the population is, what the minority populations that are here in Gwinnett County (are).”
Alexzulian said the county will also add eight employees in the Elections Division to help with voting related demands, particularly in a year when Georgia’s gubernatorial race and what is expected to be a hotly contested U.S. Senate race will be at the top of the ballot.
The 30 police officer positions continues a multi-year trend of Gwinnett expanding its police force to meet growing demands from an increasing population.
“With a continued increase in the Gwinnett County population, these positions will ensure that the county provides a high level of customer service and responsiveness to its citizens,” Alexzulian said.
The police will also be creating a program in partnership with Viewpoint Health to addresses mental health crises. The program will see pairings of officers and mental health professionals, with one pair for each of Gwinnett’s six precincts.
Many more employees will added elsewhere in the county government, although Alexzulian said many departments are getting less than a handful of new employees.
A total of 15 new employees are proposed for water and sewer-related positions, and there are six new code enforcement positions, mainly tied to commercial code enforcement, five information technology positions and seven health and human services-related positions.
The Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office is getting five positions as well to handle deputy recruit training. There is funding for two new fire inspectors and two additional attorneys in the county’s law department too.