Photo: Emily Haney
Gwinnett County will spend $1.84 billion to operate its government this year, including hiring more than 150 new employees — most in public safety.
Commissioners approved the county’s largest budget in history on Tuesday, with little discussion or debate. They added several items to the original $1.83 billion proposal, including $250,000 as a match for transit grants, $200,000 for literacy programs and $150,000 to help provide food for the needy.
Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said the $150,000 would be a challenge grant to incentivize more people in the community to put money toward helping people access food. The county had already planned to spend $1 million to help with homelessness.
Gwinnett’s budget will pay for a 4% pay-for-performance raise to employees and fund 179 new positions, including 150 in public safety and the courts. The county will hire 41 people in the police department, including 30 officers and 43 in the sheriff’s office, including 40 sheriff’s deputies. There will be 47 new fire department hires, including 27 firefighters. The positions will include the staff to support a new, 11th Superior Court judge.
New sheriff’s deputies will also help handle a backlog of warrants, Nash said, and there will be staff for a new E911 backup center, among other public safety needs.
Nash said the budget, which is 1.1% higher than 2019’s spending plan, helps to return the county from the hole it was still digging itself out of following the recession.
“We have spent so much time recovering from what we had to do in the downturn,” she said. “We’re adding back things we had to cut, important things we had to cut.”
It took until 2018 for county revenues to exceed 2008 collections. The 2020 budget — and estimated tax revenues — are now higher than they’ve ever been.
Still, she said, the county was only able to fund half of the departmental requests.
“There are definitely things that are needed that we just couldn’t afford at this point,” she said.
Nash said the budget aligns with the county’s goals, including safety, mobility and livability.
The expenditures allow the county to pay for 2020 elections, begin a pilot program using rapid-response vehicles for EMS calls and build a water research center, called the Water Tower. Money will also go to a civic center expansion, roadwork and water and sewer projects. The county intends to spend $14 million to improve cyber security.
“We have a lot of ways we could be put in a bad situation and we have to keep building our defenses,” Nash said.
The county will spend $401 million on capital projects; the rest will go toward operations.
By Arielle Kass, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution