Happy New Year (in a couple of days anyway)!
Not only will we bring in 2016 but the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners will also be voting on their 2016 County Budget. I have heard from constituents in the Gwinnett portion of my district (where about 60% of the voting age population reside) about the possibility of shorter early voting days and locations. This is a valid concern…especially given the laws the Georgia legislature has passed to curtail early voting and, in some cases, voting period in Georgia. So I wanted to provide you with some preliminary information before the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners votes on Tuesday, Jan. 5th on the proposed budget. The purpose of this is for INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES since the proposed budget has not been voted on yet.
Information To Know
First, here is the proposed Budget Resolution that gives an overall view of the Chairman’s proposed budget. By the way, the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of Gwinnett is Charlotte Nash. I have had the opportunity on several occasions to meet her husband and her adorable dog Oscar, whom I want to run away with but I digress…..
Second, take a look at this information on community services that gives a visual on the proposed budget, specifically at the number of registered voters in Gwinnett and the upcoming election schedule for 2016. Mark your calendar! Be there to vote EVERY time. (Take a look at page 15-16 and pages 20-22.)
So how did the Chairwoman come up with the budget?
“Chairman Nash invited five county residents and business people to serve on a budget review committee. Two of the committee members graduated from the inaugural class of the Gwinnett Citizens Academy. After hearing presentations from elected officials and department directors in late August and early September, the group studied departmental business plans, budget needs, and revenue projections to make recommendations for the 2016 budget.” (Source– last accessed 12/29/15) I know there have been some that have challenged the integrity of the selection process to this budget review committee. I understand your concerns but they will not be addressed in this blog post.
It’s my understanding that some feel as if Gwinnett county’s voting population is too large to only have the proposed voting dates and locations in place. I am aware that there is a petition that calls for the following: “Demand seventeen (17) days of early voting with ten (10) satellite locations from 7:00am to 7:00pm with 1 Saturday and 1 Sunday included.” The best option proposed by the Board of Voter Registration was twelve (12) days of early voting at eight (8) locations (Source, page 22) . Three recommendations were submitted to the Citizens Budget Review Committee to chose one that fit into the County budget. The Citizens’ Budget Review Committee recommended keeping AIP voting at six (6) days including one (1) Saturday but substantially expanding the hours for the November General Election from 7am to 7pm. The Elections Central Office will have 16 days of AIP voting, including one (1) Saturday. (Per Phil Hoskins, Deputy County Administrator via email dated 12/29/15)
I hear your concerns and want to make sure I provide you with as much preliminary information as possible. I emailed Chairman Nash and she swiftly provided the following response, in part: “[T]he Proposed Budget that I submitted to the District Commissioners in November includes funding for more locations and longer hours for AIP [advanced in person] voting than we have had previously. In total, the Proposed Budget includes almost $7.5 million to fund elections in 2016, including expansion of AIP voting locations and times.” (dated 12/29/15)
For those of you that vote at the Centerville Community Center and have concerns about that voting location, I was able to get a response from the Chairman as well: ” Based on construction at that location, using it as a location for AIP voting would have resulted in shutting down Senior Center functions there for certain periods of time. The Board of Voter Registrations and Elections did not want to affect the seniors in this way so the Board chose not to use this location for 2016.” (dated 12/29/15)
For your information, here is a full list of the AIP voting locations from Phil Hoskins, Deputy County Administrator: With the addition of Shorty Howell Park, Gwinnett County will provide eight (8) AIP voting locations, including the Elections Central Office. The AIP voting locations are: Bogan Park Community Center; Dacula Park Activity Building; Elections Central Office; George Pierce Park Community Center; Lenora Park Activity Building; Lucky Shoals Park Community Center; and Mountain Park Activity Building (note: the Mountain Park location replaces the Centerville Community Center due to construction plans along with the senior center activities now held at Centerville). (dated 12/29/15) Please note for future reference.
UPDATE: (as of 1/5/16)
$1.5 BILLION BUDGET
(Lawrenceville, Ga., Jan. 5, 2015) – Gwinnett commissioners adopted a balanced, $1.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2016 at their first meeting of the year on Tuesday. With the exception of slight adjustments made to police budget, it mirrors the proposal made in November. Commissioners spent that time reviewing the budget and comments they received during a December public hearing and through an online form.
The adopted budget holds the line on property tax rates while funding services cut during the recession, addressing concerns about workforce recruitment and retention, and investing in essential infrastructure and critical community needs. Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said, “This budget invests in the big picture, focusing on what’s really important for our community. It also is in line with our history of sustainable, conservative financial management by looking at future implications of today’s decisions.”
The operating budget totals $1.1 billion, compared to $1.05 billion last year. It includes an additional $7.2 million to cover election expenses and expand hours and locations for advance voting. It also unfreezes 25 police positions and restores staff at the animal shelter and in parks maintenance. Library funding is up to 88 percent of its 2008 level and Gwinnett Transit can add three new express routes. Home care and delivered meals are expanded for seniors on waiting lists. There will be additions to a special victims unit in the District Attorney’s office, 30 new police officers, nine new firefighter/paramedics, 12 new part-time sheriff deputies, three new Juvenile Court positions and another magistrate judge. The budget includes a four percent pay-for-performance increase for eligible employees and the restoration of longevity pay.
The capital budget of $363 million, down from $371 million last year, funds design for a new state patrol building, a courthouse expansion, construction of a new medical examiner/morgue building, senior center renovations and body cameras for police officers and sheriff’s deputies.
Nash again asked five county residents and business people to serve voluntarily on a budget review committee. They heard presentations from elected officials and department directors in September and studied departmental business plans, funding needs and revenue projections with County staff before making recommendations for the 2016 budget.
Call to Action
You have until Thursday, December 31st to submit your comments on the budget to this online comment form if you reside in Gwinnett county. Thank you for allowing me to serve all of you!
I have been elected to the House of Representatives since 2011, representing over 54,000 Georgians in East DeKalb and South Gwinnett counties. I currently serve on the Juvenile Justice, Interstate Cooperation, Judiciary Non-Civil, and as the ranking Democrat on the Small Business Development and Job Creation committee. I am a private securities lawyer by profession and a native of Atlanta, GA. Please visit my website , YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and slideshare account for more information on Georgia government.