Board adopts balanced budget– January 3, 2013
On January 3, the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners adopted a balanced budget for fiscal year 2013. The budget totals $1.463 billion, which is 7.1 percent lower compared to last year’s budget. It was prepared with input from six county residents and business people who served on the Chairman’s budget review committee and worked alongside elected officials and County staff to review departmental business plans and projected revenues.
The budget preserves core services, maintains necessary reserves and addresses changes in legislation. It also adjusts for the loss of revenues resulting from a drop in property values, changes mandated by the consent order that ended the Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) litigation between the County and its cities, and the creation of the new city of Peachtree Corners.
Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said, “Thanks to strong support and insight from my fellow board members and other elected officials, candid input from the residents who served on the budget review committee and staff’s hard work, we have adopted a budget that maintains core services. Despite the loss of millions of dollars in revenue in 2013, we have worked hard to minimize the impact on property owners.”
The budget for daily operations in fiscal year 2013 totals $1.058 billion, excluding one-time appropriations, up slightly more than one percent from the previous year. The capital budget is $404.7 million, a 21.6 percent decrease over 2012 that is primarily attributable to the completion of SPLOST projects in earlier years and the resulting decrease in SPLOST project budgets for 2013.
The budget includes only $1.5 million in service improvements despite requests totaling $6.8 million; nearly 80 percent of the funding for these new items is due to the impact of legislative changes. It provides funding to handle the implementation of state-legislated tax and judicial reform, but very little else in the way of improvements could be funded. County employee pay raises are not included in the budget for the fourth consecutive year, and a 90-day hold on vacant positions will continue.
The budget also includes increased revenue from the E-911 and streetlight fees, which the Board adjusted prior to the end of 2012 in order to keep those funds self-supporting.
The SDS consent order required the implementation of new service districts for police, fire and emergency medical, and development and enforcement to provide these services and collect revenues only within certain geographic areas of the County rather than countywide. For example, the police service district includes unincorporated Gwinnett and the cities that do not have their own police departments. A fourth district, funded through a contract with the County, provides emergency medical services to residents of incorporated Loganville who live in Gwinnett. Creation of the police service district will have the greatest revenue impact, reducing the tax digest supporting this service district by approximately 20 percent.
County revenues are down about $274 million since the recession began in 2008 due to a 25 percent decline in taxable property values, which puts the current tax digest at the 2005 level. Even as property values have declined, Gwinnett’s population has continued to expand, growing by about 130,000 residents between 2005 and 2012.
Commissioners will set the millage rate for property taxes this summer, after assessments and appeals are completed in the spring. A millage rate will be associated with each of the new service districts; rates will depend on a property’s location, which determines what services are provided by the County. Under current estimates, the rate for residents who live in unincorporated Gwinnett County will increase by less than 1 mill, while residents in cities that operate a police department will experience a more than 1 mill decrease. Residents of cities that do not operate a police department should see an increase of less than .5 mill. The greatest reduction in rates will occur within the city of Loganville, where property owners will pay County taxes only for the general fund, recreation district, and general obligation debt.