Gwinnett board approves $2.27 billion budget, lone Republican dissents

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved a $2.27 billion budget for this year in a 4-1 vote, with the commission’s lone Republican dissenting in his first business meeting.

The budget for Georgia’s second-largest county contains $1.78 billion for operations and $488 million for capital improvements, including funds from the county’s special purpose local option sales tax program, or SPLOST, which voters renewed in November.

This year’s general fund, which pays for personnel, is more than $466 million — an increase of about 10% from last year. The budget authorizes 131 new positions, including an equity officer, an environmental sustainability officer, an expanded emergency management team and staff for a new state court judge.

Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said she does not anticipate the budget will increase the property tax rate, which the commission will set in the summer. But District 4 Commissioner Matthew Holtkamp, who began his term Monday, said many people would still pay more in taxes.

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Gwinnett County’s value offset exemption, which freezes tax assessments for homeowners who live in their homes, does not apply to about 40% of county properties and does not help renters or business owners, Holtkamp said.

“That really gets me concerned, because my constituents, if there was anything that I heard over and over, people wanted property tax relief,” he said.

Holtkamp, a Republican, was elected in November to a board that had previously been all Democratic, after the Legislature redrew Gwinnett’s county commission districts to create a conservative-leaning District 4.

Hendrickson said she was proud of the budget, which slightly increased from her November proposal.

“Gwinnett County is the fastest growing county in the state of Georgia and we are not losing residents,” she said. “They are continuing to come here and with that comes a need to continue serving them, and while Gwinnett County is not immune to global economic uncertainty, we have taken steps in the creation of this budget to ensure that our financial foundation remains strong. We are a very lean organization.”

The budget also includes a language learning program for county employees and technological upgrades to help courts conduct virtual proceedings.

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Changes from Hendrickson’s earlier proposal include a $5.5 million increase in the economic development tax fund per an agreement with foundation building the massive Rowen research park. Funding was also added for a new staff attorney in juvenile court and a restorative justice program run by the district attorney’s office.