Gwinnett commission chair proposes $1.91B budget with ‘flexibility’

Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash proposed her final budget. EMILY HANEY / AJC FILE PHOTO

Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash proposed her final budget. EMILY HANEY / AJC FILE PHOTO

Uncertainty helped dictate Gwinnett County’s 2021 budget.

When it’s passed in January, the longtime county chairman who proposed the $1.91 billion document will be out of office. So Charlotte Nash wanted to make sure her successor, Nicole Love Hendrickson, was able to put her stamp on it.

In addition to money for 30 new police officers, several full-time elections officials, road safety improvements and an expansion of public health spending, the budget comes with $3 million in the general fund for the next board to allocate.

“We needed to provide some flexibility in this budget,” Nash said. “Instead of allocating dollars, we created a reserve fund.”

Normally, departments come to the chairman and a panel of residents asking for money for a slate of improvements. Then, the group confers about priorities and allocates money as it sees fit.

But next year, much of the government is turning over. Three new officials will join the board of commissioners. A new sheriff and district attorney will want to put their own stamp on their departments, as will a new tax commissioner and other elected officials. All are Democrats, taking over from Republicans.

Nash said she remembered working for the county in 1985, when Democrats lost control. Then, she said, the Republicans were “faced with a budget they didn’t have anything to do with.”

Couple that with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and Nash said she wanted to make sure the county’s new leaders weren’t caught flat-footed.

“Uncertainty means you’d better maintain some flexibility to deal with it,” she said.

In the budget that’s proposed, Hendrickson and the new board will have the ability to direct the $3 million, plus $2 million in a contingency fund to other newly elected officials or to fund their own priorities.

Hendrickson said she thought it was “very thoughtful” of Nash to be mindful of the next administration’s needs.

“I appreciate that she took that approach,” Hendrickson said.

The county’s proposed budget is 3.7% higher than it was this year. Nash said she factored in savings from vacancies and reduced the amount that was available for office supplies in order to keep it from going higher.