Lawrenceville is different than cities of similar size in metro Atlanta, including its Gwinnett neighbors Suwanee and Duluth, in that property taxes don’t make up a significant part of their annual revenues. Of the $182 million budgeted for Fiscal Year 2021, $2 million came from property taxes, Warbington said. A significant amount of the city’s funds come from its utility services. Lawrenceville Utilities handles gas, electric and water services for residential and commercial customers within the city limits, and more than half of the city’s employees work in utilities.
The employee raises — which range from position to position but average out to 7% per person — were planned more than a year ahead of time. Lawrenceville had done a market study to determine what comparable positions paid and whether their employees’ compensation needed to be updated. Once they got the study’s findings, they incorporated the raises into their budget preparation.
“We had been planning these raises and the employees had been expecting them as well,” Warbington said. “We didn’t just pull these numbers out of the sky. Well before the pandemic, we were making plans to make sure we could fund these raises.”
They were also anticipating new positions for the city’s police and streets departments. Neither had gotten new spots added in more than 10 years, Warbington said. The 2021 budget allows for four new police officer positions and three new streets department positions, which they’ll start filling in January barring a severe financial downturn, Warbington said.
Knowing these expenses would be coming, the city tightened its belt when it saw the pandemic emerging in Georgia. Lawrenceville froze hiring for open positions and pulled funding for optional training programs, moving what was budgeted into a contingency account in case of significant financial impact. Some of those positions are back open as of July 1, and hiring will start for others later on in the year depending on city finances and departmental needs, Warbington said.
“We are taking a kind of phased approach and we will phase it to see how our budget meets actual conditions,” Warbington said.