Gwinnett County's elected leaders unanimously approved Thursday a $1.4 billion budget for 2013. As with previous years, there were cuts, tough choices -- and no pay raises for county employees.
But there also are signs that the economic woes that have plagued the county in recent years may be bottoming out.
District 1 Commissioner Jace Brooks of Suwanee, who is beginning his first full term on the board, noted that the Gwinnett tax digest is projected to decline about 1.9 percent this year. That would be the smallest such decline in recent years, and the reduction in tax revenues has been a major problem for Gwinnett budgets recently.
Brooks, who was on the Suwanee City Council from 2002-12, noted that that city did not experience the digest decline that the overall county did. He also cited the "size and complexity" of Gwinnett government as a difference in putting a budget together.
Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash, who is beginning her first full term, noted that it was the "most difficult budget process I've been through."
For 2013, county leaders had to contend with a new city (Peachtree Corners), service districts (mandated by the Service Delivery Strategy agreement) as well as the continued reduction in the tax base.
Nash said that when the budget process began last September, that the concerns were "more than just money. There were operational issues."
Perhaps the department hardest hit by the cuts was the library system -- $1 million in materials was eliminated. Also reduced sharply was the budget for parks and recreation.
Brooks said that the cuts "were not fun for anyone, but it's the reality that we face. There are discretionary and non-discretionary items."
As for future hope for the tax digest, Nash noted that bankers are starting to hear more from people "talking about the possibility of a loan."