Gwinnett Facing $30 Million Budget Shortfall
County begins planning for fiscal year 2012.
UPDATED SEPT. 9 AT 2:15 P.M.
Gwinnett County had to close a large budget gap in the current fiscal year, and it won't get easier for fiscal year 2012.
County Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said Tuesday that budget planners are looking at a revenue shortfall of about $30 million as they plan for the next fiscal year.
Nash cited the continued decline in the Gwinnett tax digest and uncertain funding from the state as factors for the shortfall.
Nash, speaking Tuesday as budget review plans began in Lawrenceville, said that revenue projections are "not hard and fast." Also, planners have to deal with both the operating budget and capital expenditures. "Capital spending is the wild card," Nash said. "It's harder to tie down."
This is Nash's first budget since she was elected earlier this year to replace Charles Bannister. However, she participated in budget planning as the county's operations director before retiring in 2004.
"The process has not changed," she said. "Public access is different. It's more user-friendly," she noted, citing Internet access to the budget and viewing via the county's cable TV channel.
Various county departments will be making their proposals through next week. The full commissioners will get the formal budget in November, and it is expected to be adopted in January. A public hearing will be held.
Among Tuesday's highlights:
-- Tax Commissioner Richard Steele, the county's chief bill collector, requested an $11.1 million budget, a $2 million increase. He said his office collected about $1.1 billion in 2010.*
The commissioner wants to add up to four full-time staffers to seek deliquent taxes from businesses.
"Business inventory is much easier to walk (without paying taxes)," Steele told those in attendance.
Paula Martin of the tax commissioner's office said in an e-mail that a full-cost allocation plan was approved in July of this year. This means that services and facilities used by the county in previous and current years are now allocated to all government offices in an equitable manner and therefore represents a net increase of zero dollars to the taxpayer
Steele's office collected about $1.1 billion in taxes and fees in 2010. Motor vehicle fees accounted for about $88 million. "We are the face of the county a lot of times," he said.
After his presentation, Nash asked Steele, "If you were czar for a day, what would you change?"
Responded Steele: "If we could send electronic notices for property taxes ... it would be a big help."
Though property values have declined in recent years, Steele noted that the tax digest in Gwinnett grew 112 percent -- about $458 million to $973 million -- from 2001-10. Steele said that caused a "dramatic increase in workload" to his office.
-- The Clerk of Courts office is seeking a budget of $18.3 million, a slight increase. It wants an additional staffer for the Board of Equalization, which handles property tax appeals and hearings. Those have increased markedly in the past year in the county.
-- The Juvenile Court considers its at-risk youth figure to be about 165,000 -- the approximate enrollment of the Gwinnett public school system. That therefore makes it the largest at-risk youth figure in Georgia.
*This article has been updated to reflect details regarding the tax commissioner's request.