Gwinnett County's elected leaders unanimously approved Thursday a $1.4 billion budget for 2013, which is 7.1 percent lower than last year. 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.
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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.
The incorporation of Peachtree Corners translated to a $2 million loss in revenue for the county.
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.
Also expected is a property tax increase. Commissioners will set the millage rate for property taxes next summer, after assessments and appeals are completed in the spring.
Residents of cities that do not operate a police department, such as Peachtree Corners, should see an increase of less than half a mill.
-- The complete Gwinnett County 2013 budget can be viewed online on the county website.
This story first appeared in the Suwanee Patch.