Thursday, November 6, 2008

Gwinnett Annouces Organizational Changes; Eliminates 93 Positions

Gwinnett County is announcing organizational changes in two areas of government. A total of 93 positions will be eliminated from two departments: 79 in Planning and Development, which has been heavily affected by slowing development, and another 14 in Water Resources, which has been investing in new, more automated plants and equipment in order to close older, less efficient facilities. The total projected savings is $4.5 million in 2009 and $5.9 million the following year.

Over the last couple of years, development activity has slowed both locally and across the nation. As a result of both the dramatic slowdown and efficiencies the department gained through implementing recommendations from a comprehensive study, current staffing levels in Planning and Development’s plan review, development review, building inspections and development inspections sections are no longer justified given the workload both today and forecast into the future.

Staff reductions in Water Resources are part of the department’s long-range plan that includes decommissioning several older water reclamation facilities upon the completion of newer facilities and computerized maintenance and control systems upgrades. The Beaver Ruin Water Reclamation Facility is slated to close by the end of the year.

The organizational changes will be undertaken in three phases with the intent to impact as few employees as possible in the end. First, a retirement incentive will be offered to employees in the targeted areas who are currently eligible or will be eligible to retire by the end of 2009. That will be followed by an effort to match up employees in positions where staffing changes are needed to other job opportunities. Finally, the last phase will consist of layoffs.

“This is one of the most difficult and painful decisions I have ever had to make,” said County Administrator Jock Connell. “It affects real people and their livelihood, and it’s hard. We are hoping that voluntary retirements and transfers will help lessen the impact on individuals, although I can’t guarantee that outcome in all cases.”

This organizational change is the first action taken as the result of a comprehensive services and cost management review prompted by slowing growth, rising expenses and flattening revenues. Dozens of employees on 10 evaluation teams have been working since August towards a goal to find ways to improve efficiency and cut ongoing expenses by $35 million. Areas under examination include: non-core services, administrative functions, rates and fees, productivity, facility operations and maintenance, equipment, inventories, supplies, and personnel costs including overtime and benefits. Although the overall review is still underway, and most recommendations are due in late November, this reduction was quickly identified as necessary and requiring immediate action.

Gwinnett County, which has held the line or reduced its county tax rate every year since 1992 for a total reduction of 27 percent, has also maintained the highest possible credit ratings. But since 2000, forecasts have projected slower revenue growth and increasing costs. This year’s budget allocated $32 million in reserve funds to help cover operating costs, a necessary move but one that is not sustainable over the long term.
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