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Gwinnett's nearly $1.7 billion 2018 proposed budget includes 66 new police positions

Posted November 28, 2017 4:25 p.m. EST

— Nearly half of the 151 new positions included in Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash's proposed 2018 budget will be in the police department.

Nash and Chief Finance Officer Maria Woods presented the nearly $1.7 billion budget proposal to county commissioners and department heads Tuesday morning. One of the key items in the proposal is 66 police positions.

More than half of them, 36 to be exact, will be for the new precinct that will be built next year at Bay Creek Park. Another 30 positions will be police officers that the department will have the discretion to place where it chooses.

"The police chief and his senior staff will decide how they're going to allocate those positions," Nash said. "I would think they're going to be spread geographically among the precincts, but I can't say that for sure. It's really up to them to decide how they're going to assign them, but remember it's going to be a while before they'll actually be acting as a police officer.

"We've got to get them through their training and they'll ride with a training officer for a while as well."

The proposed budget is about 8 percent larger than the budget that was adopted in January for this year. Compensation and benefits are up about 2.8 percent, but 2018 will also be the first year in which raises that went into effect this month will be in place for a full year.

A 4 percent pay for performance, and one-time longevity pay are included in the proposed budget as well.

Nash also said she put aside about $500,000 in the proposed budget to address homelessness in Gwinnett County.

Several public safety positions added

As expected, public safety is a key part of the proposed budget. Thirty-six positions will be added to the fire department to staff two new ambulance units and a ladder truck unit.

"All of the stations will (now) have an ambulance unit," Woods said.

Meanwhile, construction is expected to begin next year the Bay Creek police precinct that the budget would allocate money for staffing. It is expected to open in 2019. The staffing provided in the proposed budget includes 35 sworn positions and one civilian positions.

Police Chief Butch Ayers said the department got money set aside in a previous budget for another 30 positions at the precinct.

"So with this 35 addition (officer positions) that they are authorizing for next year will be the total staffing package" for the precinct, Ayers said.

The chief said the department has not decided where it will use the other positions that have been included in the proposed 2018 budget but are not tied to a specific precinct.

"Typically they'll go into our operations bureau, the uniform division and the detectives," Ayers said. "Right now both (divisions) are under strength. As the population increases, there will be additional service level demands.

"We actually look at where our manpower is distributed on a weekly basis throughout the year, depending on what the staffing levels is, when people graduate from the academy, things like that. We adjust staffing at various precincts or divisions, so to be able to sit here today and tell you where those 30 are going, I couldn't do that."

The fire and police departments are not the only public safety departments that will get new positions. The Sheriff's Office will get 12 part-time deputies who will help fill needs, which will free up some full-time deputies to address other needs in the department.

Several other departments gaining new positions as well

Among the other new positions included in the proposed budget, the Planning and Development Department and the Department of Transportation will gain back a few of the positions they lost during the recession.

Ten positions are being added in the Department of Water Resources and the Department of Community Services will get seven new positions for its Lilburn activity building and its Natural and Cultural Resources Division. Six new positions are being added in the Information Technology department.

The Support Services Department would also gain several positions, according to the budget proposal. Two new public relations positions are also in the budget.

Additional funding for advance voting to be put in reserve

The county is also going to invest in its elections division this year. Four new positions would be added to help with Voting Rights Act compliance.

The county has also include money that was requested for additional advance voting and Sunday voting in 2018, but that is no guarantee that the elections office will be able to provide those services.

Nash said whether extra voting opportunities happen will depend on whether enough poll workers can be recruited though.

"What I'm proposing is the dollars for the additional things that they want, or were proposed for advance voting - we're setting those dollars aside in a reserve," Nash said. "The critical thing is the same thing I raised when we were going through the budget discussion (in August) is being able to have poll workers sufficient to ensure that we can actually do what we have to do during advance voting.

"We'll be watching to see how recruitment of poll workers will go before decisions are made about exactly what the approach to advance voting is going to be … We'll at least match what we did in 2016 in the November general election, and I expect that we're going to do more days, but its really going to be based on the ability to recruit poll workers."

Public comment period now open

Woods said the county is budgeting on the premise that its millage rate will remain the same. Commissioners voted to raise millage rate last year, in part to address retention issues across multiple county departments.

"All of this is built upon the priorities that the board has set, so the basis of all of this budget is making sure we're meeting all of those priorities," Woods said.

The proposed budget is available for public inspection and comment at Residents can also review it by visiting the Department of Financial Services at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, 75 Langley Drive in Lawrenceville.

A public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. The budget will be voted on by the Board of Commissioners at its first meeting in January.