Some 500 came to hear Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlotte Nash deliver the State of the County address on Wednesday at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth.
Nash, who has been at the helm of the county for about a year after winning the chairman's seat in a special election in March 2011, was quick to point out that it was a team effort that has helped see the county through some of the toughest economic times in recent history.
"It takes all of us working as a team to move the county in the right direction," said Nash.
The chairman acknowledged the challenges of managing through the affects of the nation's recession. "It's tempting to see nothing but the obvious results of a worldwide economic downturn," said Nash pointing out the many vacant store fronts and glut of foreclosed homes. "I'm not pretending we have no challenges."
However, there are many positive signs said the chairman pointing to the rise in the number of people employed in the county, which is up by more than 3 percent over 2011 -- and unemployment is the lowest among the five core metro counties.
Providing services will continue to be the county's top priority including parks and libraries which voters have approved. Nash also promised the county would do its part to keep the county's financially strong. "We will continue to keep a tight reign on the county's financial matters," said Nash.
One of the county's new initiatives is to focus on the decline in properties and neighborhoods. The county has formed the "Operation Good Neighbor" program, which will depend heavily on volunteers.
"The program is intended to address issues that the county cannot handle directly by pulling together and organiziang volunteer efforts from non-profit organizations, businesses, the faith community, homeowners associations and neighbors themselves," said Nash.
"More details will be coming soon," Nash said, "but I can say that Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful has signed on to lead the way ...."
County leaders, she said, face a tough balancing this year due to declining tax digest which means less revenue for services but assured there would be no tax increase. "We know citizens and businesses are struggling to make ends meet ... and we recognize that it is not a time to increase taxes."
Nash promised the county's leaders would continue to look for ways to operate more efficiently.
"A possible silver lining to the downturn is that the county organization is leaner and more innovative," the chairman pointed out.
Despite its limited budget the county was still able to make improvements to roads and parks, among those projects:
- The DOT opened the third section of the Sugarloaf Parkway Extension.
- Major renovations to Rhodes Jordan Park in Lawrenceville were completed.
- Bethesda Park Senior Center, Collins Hill and Mountain Park Aquatic Centers were renovated.
- Expansion projects underway at Rabbit Hill Park, Harbins Park and Ivy Creek Greenway.
And also among those accomplishments was the settlement of the Service Delivery Strategy dispute between the cities and the county.
"I cannot tell you how happy I am that the cities and the county last week approved the settlement of this issue...," said Nash. "Am I thrilled with all aspects of the settlement? If course not, but our decision to settle was the only responsible action to take...."
"Now we can focus on the real work that needs to be done without the distraction of the dispute."
Nash also pointed to several other measures passed which are intended to rebuild the public's trust in the county's leadership:
- Adoption of a new land acquisition policy that outlines strict procedures to follow and hold the board and county staff accountable for its actions.
- A new code of ethics was passed that establishes ethical standards of conduct for all elected officials and county employees.
And finally, with the 2012 budget now passed which did not require drawing from the county's reserves or making additional cuts, Nash promised that the county would continue a conservative approach.
"With your help, we will build on the strong foundation of all that we've built together in the past ... and to building an even better community."