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Board adopts balanced budget for 2013

On January 3, 2013, 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. A public hearing was held on December 10, 2012, and online comments were taken through December 31, 2012.

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 in the 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.

Learn more about the 2013 budget by checking out the documents and video in the following links:

Budget Overview

Under Georgia law, local governments must annually adopt a balanced budget. In Gwinnett County, local ordinance requires the Chairman to submit to the Board of Commissioners, not later than December 1, a budget for the ensuing year. The Board must then adopt an operating and capital budget, and a preliminary five-year capital plan at its first meeting in January for that fiscal year.

Gwinnett County has the requirement for one public hearing prior to budget adoption. The purpose is to provide a forum where county residents or other interested parties may be heard on any matter relating to the budget.

The Budget Division of the Department of Financial Services is responsible for managing the budget preparation cycle and for ongoing monitoring and review of the adopted budget. The Budget Division also maintains financial forecasts and plans. The County's department directors prepare and submit funding requests and are charged with managing departmental operations in accordance with the budget adopted by the Board.

The operating budget extends for one fiscal year while capital infrastructure budgets may span several years, depending on the size or complexity of projects. The Capital Improvement Program (CIP) consists of the Board's spending authorization (capital budget) for the current fiscal period, and a five-year plan for both ongoing and future projects.

The annual budget process for the following year begins many months before the Chairman's recommendation is made to the Board of Commissioners. In March and April, Financial Services staff provides financial and economic forecasts and other relevant information to the Chairman and County Administrator. Concurrently, the Budget Division prepares and distributes budget submission packages for use by County department directors, and constitutional and judicial officers. A formal meeting, usually in May, kicks off the budget cycle, where the Chairman and County Administrator share their views on theme(s) and emphasis for the up-coming year.

Request packages submitted by department directors or elected officials are reviewed initially by Budget Division staff. This typically consists of a first-cut check for accuracy and funding availability. At the same time, budget analysts prepare analysis packages for subsequent use by the Operating Budget Review Team and the Capital Budget Review Team.

Review teams are made up of the County Administrator (or designee), the Director of Financial Services and department or division directors from other parts of County government who typically participate on a rotating basis. Since 1993, a Gwinnett citizen representative has also been selected as a voting member of the team. The Budget Division provides coordination and support for review teams.

The operating and capital review teams and Financial Services staff meet with departments and elected officials during late summer and early fall to obtain detailed insight on budget requests. Following these meetings and deliberation, review team recommendations are provided to the Chairman and the County Administrator, who scrutinize the recommendations and make the final decisions on what will become the Chairman's recommended budget.

The role of the Operating Budget Review Team is to consider all operating budget requests in light of available revenues, forecasts, and the County's overall financial condition. Much effort is devoted to reviewing new initiatives or service expansions. Depending upon the financial picture, this review team may become involved in establishing priorities and recommending reductions in budget requests.

The goal of the Capital Budget Review Team is to recommend a Capital Budget and CIP that is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan for the County. They arrive at their proposal after discussions with department directors and other departmental officials and deliberate consideration of each request within the context of the overall needs of the County and ability to fund facilities and future operating costs. The team takes into account other long-range and master-planning work (Water and Sewer 50 Year Master Plan, Parks and Recreation Master Plan, etc), and long-term financial forecasts are considered as the CIP is developed.

After budget adoption, Financial Services is responsible for ongoing budget administration. Budget analysts work with financial staff in the various County departments and offices to monitor progress and outcomes. The budget may be amended throughout the fiscal year as allowed per the Budget Resolution to adapt to changing governmental needs. All significant changes require explicit approval by the Board of Commissioners. However, authority has been delegated to the County Administrator and Director of Financial Services for adjustments in certain limited cases.

At mid-year, the Board adopts a Budget Reconciliation that replaces the original adopted budget. This process is not a supplemental budget cycle, but rather is a refinement of revenue estimates and some minor adjustment in appropriations based on actual experience for the current year. Infrequently, the mid-year process may include a non-recurring new initiative.

The purpose of the mid-year reconciliation is to review actual experience to date for the year in regard to both revenues and expenditures. The adoption of the Budget Reconciliation is usually done following the adoption of the millage rate. At this point, the projected tax revenues are reconciled, and projected revenues and appropriations are revised to be more in line with actual experience.

Click here to view the County's current budget documents.