When Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash presents her proposed 2018 budget this week, there will be some things that may not be a surprise, such as public safety resources, but it will represent more than that.
Nash recently sat down with the Daily Post and discussed some of the items that can be expected in her budget proposal. She is scheduled to present the proposed budget to her fellow commissioners at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in the Board of Commissioners Conference Room at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, 75 Langley Drive in Lawrenceville.
While retention remains a key issue that officials want to address, the commission chairwoman said there will also be some efforts in her budget proposal to restore funding for positions and programs that the county cut during the Great Recession.
Nash called it “restoring capacity to the organization” to adjust for the county’s current economic situation.
“As you would expect, I don’t think you’ll be surprised by any of the emphasis areas,” Nash said. “Public safety certainly is one focus point of what’s going to be in the proposed budget that’s going to be presented (on Tuesday), and also going back and looking at some of the areas that took some of the severest cuts during the downturn that we’ve not been able to restore previously.”
When the recession hit around the 2008 to 2009 time frame, Gwinnett’s economy in turn took a hit. That forced county officials to have to cut a range of things, from positions in county government to grass mowing on county-owned rights-of-way.
It’s only been in the last couple of years, officials have previously said, that the county’s tax digest has gotten back up to approximately where it was in 2008.
The county’s Planning and Development department is one example is where some positions that had been cut during the recession are likely to come back.
“Certainly when permit numbers just practically disappeared, it totally made sense to go through the unpleasant process that (County Administrator Glenn Stephens) had to go through over there and release a lot of staff,” Nash said. “But as permit numbers have begun to come back, we’re at the point now where we’ve got to add some of that staff back to make sure that we can process, in an expeditious way, anything that comes to P and D.
“We don’t want to begin to have the reputation that some other jurisdictions have about the length of time it takes to get through the process.”
Nash said the bounce back in the tax digest has given county officials an opportunity to review the services they provide to residents.
“We didn’t automatically add things back because revenues were coming back,” she said. “We used this as a chance to look at what are the most critical things for us to focus on.”
While there has been a look at restoring services and positions that were cut during the recession, county leaders are also looking at adding new positions to address growth and new demands for services.
There will be funding for two new ambulance units and a ladder unit included in the budget for the county’s fire department.
“We’ve talked internally about the great need we have related to medical services,” Nash said. “We’ve had, as an objective, getting an ambulance at every fire station. Those two units will let us accomplish that goal … and the ladder truck will go to the station closest to (Coolray Field) where we think we’ve got enough of the larger facilities, the taller facilities, to mean there’s a real need for it here.”
Nash said she wasn’t ready to talk about whether additional police officer and sheriff’s deputy positions would be included in the budget because discussions where still taking place on that matter.
Gwinnett leaders continue to work on addressing retention in multiple departments across county government, most notably the law enforcement departments, though.
Next year will also be the first year where the county’s recently announced raises for employees will be in effect for the entire budget year. Eligible county employees, across all departments, got a 3 percent market adjustment and sworn police officers, sheriff’s deputies, corrections officers and E-911 communications officers got an additional 4 percent raise.
Those raises went into effect earlier this month.
“We certainly didn’t expect what we did with the pay most recently to be a panacea that’s just going to solve the issue,” Nash said. “We’re going to have to keep an eye on it. We hope that we’ll see some improvement with the police department’s success as a result of what they’re able to advertise as starting salaries now.