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Gwinnett Braves Stadium Costs Up 50%

Aug 31st, 2008 | By Gwinnettian Editor | Category: All Posts, Gwinnett

This Tuesday, September 2, 2008, Gwinnett commissioners will consider giving the stadium project an additional $19 million, which would come out of the county’s reserve fund. These are Gwinnett taxpayer funds. This time discussion and debate will be open to the public.

Board of Commissioners meeting
10 a.m. work session, 2 p.m. business session Tuesday
Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, 75 Langley Drive, Lawrenceville

By Camie Young
Senior Writer
Gwinnett Daily Post

Saturday, August 30, 2008

DULUTH - Gwinnett’s minor league baseball stadium’s budget is $19 million more than anticipated. Officials are asking commissioners to dip into the county’s reserve fund for the extra cash.

The $59 million construction budget, which was determined after bids came in during the last week, included improvements to the stadium’s facade, a 36,000-square-footage increase and upgrades to save water and reduce future maintenance costs, said Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau board chairman Richard Tucker.

He said the extra money is needed to produce a “first-class facility” under time constraints to begin the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves season in April.

“This happens every day in the real estate business,” said Tucker, a developer. “You adjust to it and you do it. In this case, they are public funds, so we are even more careful.”

Earlier this year, commissioners put up $7 million for construction of the stadium, as well as $5 million for the land on Buford Drive, south of the Mall of Georgia near Rock Springs Road, where construction has already begun. The remainder of the $40 million construction funding has come from a $33 million bond package to be paid back with rent from the Braves, a $1-per-ticket fee, parking fees, a rental car tax and naming rights.

Commissioner Bert Nasuti, a member of the visitors bureau who introduced the stadium idea, said the project remains a good investment for the county, as it is expected to bring in between $5 million and $20 million in economic development each year.

“In the long-term, it’s going to bring more money to Gwinnett County than it’s ever going to cost,” he said.

The government is facing tough financial times, implementing a hiring freeze except for public safety officers and asking police and firefighters to be careful about using gasoline. But Nasuti said the reserve fund is created for these kind of investments.

From the reserves, the county chipped in $25 million for the $90 million Arena at Gwinnett Center project more than five years ago.

“When you stop all economic development projects when there is a downturn, you’re going to punish yourself over the long term,” he said. “If you don’t do certain things now, in 10 years, you’ll have to do things that are much more expensive.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Friday, August 29, 2008

Gwinnett County’s new baseball stadium will cost nearly 50 percent more than originally planned, officials revealed Friday.

The 10,000-seat stadium for the top minor league franchise of the Atlanta Braves will now cost $59 million. County officials initially projected the stadium would cost $40 million.

“While it appears somewhat shocking I guess how big the increase is, it is not shocking to us,” said Richard Tucker, chairman of the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau board. The tourism agency is spearheading the project for the county.

The Gwinnett County Commission will vote Tuesday on spending $19 million from the county’s reserve fund to pay for the increased costs. The county has already spent $12 million from its recreation fund to pay for the project.

More than a third of the increased cost comes from upgrades from the original plans that include an addition to the concourse to make it completely circle the stadium, a canopy over parts of the stadium and upgraded finishes.

Another third results from additional site work to put stormwater detention underground, build beefier retaining walls necessary to maximize use of the site, increased sewer costs and unexpected rock removal costs, Tucker said.

The increase also includes $1.5 million to make the stadium more environmentally friendly, in part by using partially treated wastewater to irrigate the field and flush toilets.

The rest of the increase, about $3.2 million, results from increased material costs and management fees.

Commissioner Bert Nasuti, said the changes will be looked back on in coming years as wise investments for a project he said will generate much more revenue for the county than it will cost taxpayers.

“We’ve got only one opportunity to build it right,” he said.

By: J.C. Bradbury

Now that the initial shock of the move of the Triple-A Braves from Richmond to Gwinnett County has worn off, I’d like to take a look at the stadium deal. The AJC has run several articles on the subject, and the articles contain most of the details of the Braves’s lease with the city. Here are the details that I know.
• It is a 30-year lease (2009–2038) with the opportunity for termination by the Braves after the 2023 season (15 years); however, the conditions for termination look to be quite stringent.
• Gwinnett is responsible for design and construction of the stadium and parking facilities, as well as covering major capital repairs to the stadium and non-preventive maintenance (e.g., HVAC, scoreboard, seats, walls, floors). To ensure that the improvements will happen, Gwinnett must maintain a capital maintenance fund with a minimum balance of $500,000.
• The Braves are responsible for operation costs not associated with capital maintenance and repairs.
• The Braves retain all revenues from the operation of the facility during Braves events. This includes revenue from tickets, concessions, luxury suites, club seats, sponsorship, advertising, and broadcasting.
• The Braves have exclusive rights to the stadium, except for 10 non-Braves events hosted by Gwinnett. The Braves are entitled to concessions revenue from these events.
• Gwinnett is responsible for selling the naming rights. The Braves are entitled to $350,000 share of this revenue annually.
• The Braves will operate parking services and set parking fees. Revenues will be split 50-50 with Gwinnett.
• The Braves will pay rent of $250,000 per year for the first five years. After this time the rent will increase according to the growth of the Consumer Price Index. In addition, the Braves will pay Gwinnett a ticket fee of $1 per ticket sold, with a minimum guarantee of $400,000 remitted to Gwinnett.

After reviewing the agreement, I see why the Braves were so eager to sign this deal, and why Gwinnett officials negotiated this deal in private and approved it quickly. Gwinnett County administrator Jock Connell anticipates the total expenditure for the stadium to be $45 million. $12 million will come from tax dollars earmarked towards recreation, and the remaining $33 million will be borrowed with revenue from the stadium paying off the debt. From the information I have seen, I don’t think this is likely.

Gwinnett is guaranteed four sources of revenue: rent, naming rights, parking, and non-Braves events. Let’s look at what these sources will bring in.
• Gwinnett is guaranteed a minimum of $650,000 a year in rent: $250,000 (rent) +$400,000 (ticket fee minimum). While it is possible for the county to earn more from the ticket fee, I think it is unlikely. In 2006, the Richmond Braves total home attendance was 321,696 and averaged 4,730 per game.

The current ballpark design is for 5,500 seats, 1,500 in grass seating, 300 club seats, and 16 suites. In order to earn more than $400,000 from the ticket fee, the team would have to average over 5,700 fans a game (assuming 70 home games). That is not going to happen.

[Update: This stadium design refers to an older design considered by Gwinnett for hosting an independent league team. To be a Triple-A facility, it most hold a minimum 10,000 fans. However, I still do not think the team will average more than 5,700 fans.]
• Gwinnett retains all naming rights sales beyond $350,000, which it must pay to the Braves. How much will the naming rights generate? Let’s look for a comparable deal. Lackawanna County Stadium—home of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees—sold its rights to be called PNC Field for the price of $365,000 annually (a three-year deal) just last year . While I don’t doubt that a new stadium in Gwinnett can garner a higher price, I don’t think it will be that much higher. I’ll be generous and assume that they can sell the rights for $450,0000 per year. Thus, the county gets $100,000 ($450,000 — $350,000)
• Gwinnett receives 50% of the parking. Richmond charges $3 for parking. If we assume that the Braves sell out all 2,300 parking spaces for 70 games, this translates to $483,000 in revenue. Gwinnett would receive $241,500 of this.
• As for revenue from the 10 non-Braves events, I won’t even try to guess. But the fact that the Braves retain all of the concession revenues doesn’t help.

So, let’s add up what we have. We anticipate an annual income stream of $991,500—I’ll make in an even million. Will the non-concession revenue from the 10 non-Braves events be enough to cover the debt payments and capital maintenance over the life of the stadium? The stadium will be financed through local bonds, which is complicated. But let’s just make this simple by pretending this is a regular 30-year mortgage for $33 million, and we will give the county a 3% interest rate. This results in annual payments of $1.67 million, which means that Gwinnett needs to bring in $670,000 per year on the 10 non-Braves events in order to cover its loan payments. If each of these events brings in 7,000 people (approaching stadium capacity), then the county must bring in about $10 per person in profits (revenue minus operating costs) at these events. I think that this is unlikely.

[Update: I have just received a copy of the feasibility study of bringing a minor league team to Gwinnett, which was released in summer 2007. The plan calls for borrowing for 25 years at a 5.5% interest rate. Keeping the term of the loan to 30 years and re-running the numbers with the higher interest rate, the annual dept payments rise to $2.25 million.—requiring nearly $18 per person in profit to cover the remaining debt with 10 events of 7,000 people.]

I want to caution that this is a first pass at these numbers, and I have had to make several simplifying assumptions. However, I have tried to be optimistic about revenue projections that favor Gwinnett. I am willing to update my estimates as new information comes to light.

I find it disturbing that Gwinnett officials pushed this through so quickly and without public debate. If the Braves sell 5,000 tickets a game for and average of $10, the team will bring in $3.5 million year just off of tickets. With naming rights ($350,000) and all of the other rights (concessions, advertising, etc.) adding in, this is a good deal for the Braves.

I think it is a shame that this was rushed through in secret. It is possible that Gwinnett County residents don’t mind an increased tax burden if it means they get the Braves. It could mean only a few dollars more in taxes a year for the next 30 years. But, I think everyone would be happier if we could have had the opportunity to agree on this with some advance notice.

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  1. I’ve been steamed about this ever since first learning of it. ALL tax payer funded projects SHOULD come before the public for discussion and debate. Why on earth it’s not mandated is beyond my comprehension. Wanting the Braves in Gwinnett is not the issue here, the issue is secretive allocation of our hard earned money for ANY reason.

    Throw the bums out of office!

  2. By Camie Young
    Senior Writer
    Gwinnett Daily Post

    LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett’s baseball bank account got a $19 million boost Tuesday, when commissioners unanimously approved dipping into reserve funds for a 50 percent increase to its minor league stadium construction budget.

    “I’m excited,” said Commissioner Kevin Kenerly, who likened the decision to imposing the same standards on the county as he did in a rezoning case that day. “It’s going to cost more money, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be better for the community.”

    The money for the Buford Drive stadium will pay for upgrades to the design including architectural improvements, 34,000 square feet of additional space, an underground detention pond to reduce maintenance costs and improve aesthetics and improvements to allow the stadium to use treated wastewater for irrigation and toilets.

    According to officials with the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is overseeing the construction, part of the cost over-runs were created because of the speed of the construction, since the stadium has to be open for the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves to begin play in April.

    While no residents spoke publicly during the meeting, a man stood outside the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center with handmade signs protesting the move for “boondoggle baseball.”

    “It’s a crime. It’s a shame they won’t spend the money on things the public needs,” such as a women’s shelter, said Charles Northrop of Snellville.

    At a time when the county has instituted a hiring freeze in every department other than public safety and asked firefighters and police officers to conserve fuel, District Attorney Danny Porter said he could not believe commissioners voted for the increase.

    “We can’t put enough cops on the streets, we can’t put enough deputies in pods and I can’t put enough prosecutors in courtrooms, but we can play baseball. It’s absurd,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable squandering of taxpayers’ money and to pull it out of reserves is just irresponsible.”

    Not counting a $5 million land purchase, commissioners already contributed $7 million in recreation funds for the construction and sold $33 million in bonds, which are expected to be paid back with a rental fee from the Braves, a car rental tax, naming rights, parking and ticket fees.

    Commissioner Mike Beaudreau, who is known for keeping an eye on county spending, said he lost sleep over the decision. He said he even considered plowing over what has been built so far and converting the land to a county park.

    But because the county has to have revenues to pay back the bonds, he said the only choice was to move forward and create a stellar ballpark.

    “I felt it was the only thing we could do that was fiscally responsible, believe it or not,” he said. “I felt we had no other choice.”

    But Bert Nasuti, the commissioner who created the county’s baseball dream and serves on the tourism board, said the investment will be worth it.

    “We didn’t take it lightly,” he said, adding that he is glad the board approved environmental and technological upgrades. “It’s a tremendous investment in the community. We’re giving our citizens an outstanding family venue and a quality of life asset.”

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    Tuesday, September 02, 2008

    The decision Tuesday to spend another $19 million of Gwinnett County’s savings to pay for a 50 percent cost increase in the county’s new stadium was so straightforward, it didn’t require any public discussion or debate, county commissioners said.

    The commission voted to spend the money as part of its consent agenda, a package of typically non-controversial items that on Tuesday included filling a vacancy on a golf commission, accepting the donation of dog food for the county animal shelter and spending $16.7 million to replace county transit buses.

    Commissioners said the decision didn’t require public debate because there was little choice but to approve the money, without which project officials said they could not build the stadium currently coming out of the ground on Buford Drive near I-85 in Lawrenceville. The stadium will cost $59 million, up from an initial estimate of $40 million.

    “But I’m not pleased about it, obviously, at all,” said Commissioner Mike Beaudreau. “I’m very frustrated. But at this point, I looked at every other recourse possible, including plowing it under, and it would all end up being more expensive.”

    While there was little support for the increased spending in online forums dedicated to discussion of Gwinnett issues, no organized opposition to the stadium has emerged and no one stepped up to speak about the spending at the end of Tuesday’s meeting.

    Two critics of the plan, Don Shaw and Lee Baker, did attend but did not speak.

    “I’m still trying to figure out how this is going to pay for itself,” Shaw said, echoing an oft-quoted line from County Administrator Jock Connell in January, on the day county officials announced they’d reached a deal to build the stadium and relocate the top minor-league affiliate of the Atlanta Braves to Gwinnett.

    Connell said he anticipated the stadium “paying for itself from day one.”

    Since then, the county has enacted a car rental tax to help pay off debt from stadium construction, seen the cost of that borrowing increase as interest rates rose and now the county’s cash contribution rise from the initial pledge of $12 million to a total of $31 million.

    Charles Northrop of Snellville stood outside the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center before the meeting holding hand-written signs reading “Baseball Boondoggle” and “Vote No! Today and Nov. 4th.”

    “It just aggravates me. Particularly since I’m sending them my money this month,” he said of the commission’s decision approving the spending in the same month county residents have to send in their property tax payments.

    The Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is building the stadium on behalf of the county, revealed Friday that the stadium’s cost had escalated dramatically because of design decisions made since work at the site began.

    Because the county is under a tight deadline to finish the project in time for the April 2009 opening of the team that will be called the Gwinnett Braves, designers were drawing specs for parts of the stadium even as other work was ongoing.

    Among other things, the increased price tag includes a concourse that circles the stadium — the original design excluded the outfield — as well as a canopy over part of the stadium, underground storm water retention and upgraded finishes.

    “I don’t want just to go to a high school field,” said Commissioner Kevin Kenerly. “I want a first-class facility there.”

    The decision comes at a time when the county is struggling with millions of dollars in increased costs and revenue issues including the loss, temporarily at least, of $14.2 million in funds due the county under a state homeowner’s tax relief grant program.

    Connell said spending the $19 million does limit the county’s financial options, but that it was the only practical solution.

    But he and members of the commission said they would be unlikely to support any more significant increases in the project’s budget.

    “I think that would be a tough nut to crack,” Connell said.

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    Friday, September 05, 2008

    Charles Northrop can barely control his disdain as he talks about the Gwinnett County Commission’s decision to increase its contribution to a new baseball stadium by $19 million. But he still didn’t bother to lobby his elected officials to change their minds.

    “Wouldn’t make any difference,” the Snellville resident said, calling commissioners a “lost cause.”

    The idea that the county is mindlessly spending away the county’s financial future for what Northrop called a “baseball boondoggle” is prevalent among the handful of critics who have come forward to question the deal.

    Critics point to a countywide hiring freeze that excludes only police and fire positions, a decision by the tax commissioner’s office to cut its workweek to four days, and requests of police and fire employees to save gas as evidence of the county’s financial peril.

    But county leaders say they’re making a sound decision that will pay dividends in the future.

    “The business model in my mind is as sound as it ever was,” said Commissioner Bert Nasuti, who came up with the idea of bringing baseball to Gwinnett County.

    His dream will come true next year when the top minor-league affiliate of the Atlanta Braves relocate to Lawrenceville from Richmond.

    When county officials announced the stadium and relocation deal in January, the plan was for a $40 million stadium paid for with $7 million in cash contributions from the county’s recreation fund reserve and $33 million borrowed against future revenues generated by the county and a new car rental tax.

    The county also agreed to pay $5 million in recreation reserve money to buy the land on Ga. 20 where the stadium is being built.

    Last week, however, county officials revealed the stadium costs would increase from $40 million to $59 million, and that the county would have to make up the difference.

    The commission voted Tuesday to approve withdrawing the money from the county’s general fund reserve — the rainy-day savings account for the county’s largest operating fund.

    The decision won’t have a direct impact on county operations or tax bills, but will reduce the reserve fund by 12.5 percent, leaving a balance of $133 million.

    By the end of the year, according to county finance director Lisa Johnsa, that reserve is expected to fall to about $107 million as county officials draw on the fund to pay for rising costs associated with hiring new personnel and higher price tags for everything from fuel to road fixings.

    It will be the first time, Johnsa said, that the county actually has drawn on its reserves. The county has budgeted use of the reserves for years, but higher than expected revenues and lower than budgeted spending have helped prevent that from happening until now, she said.

    The fund could be further depleted if the state Legislature does not restore funding under the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant, a program that was to have reimbursed Gwinnett County $14.2 million for property tax reductions that appear on the bills homeowners begin paying this month.

    Of that, $13.2 million was to go to the general fund.

    If that money is not restored, it could leave the county’s reserve balance at about $98 million. But even that amount is still well above the $69 million minimum reserve the county requires of itself, Johnsa said.

    “We have some breathing room in our reserve,” she said.

    And while some critics have said it is reckless to spend savings when revenues are at best stagnant and costs are rising, County Administrator Jock Connell said that’s what the money is there for: to prepare for emergencies and take advantage of opportunities the county would otherwise have to pass up.

    “We knew a time was coming when we would use these funds,” he said.

    Connell said using the reserve fund does limit the options available to county leaders when it comes to making hard choices about reducing services or raising taxes — a decision Connell notes he has been warning is coming for years and could begin to show up as early as this fall as the work of setting the 2009 budget gets into full swing.

    But Nasuti said the stadium is an economic development project that eventually will bring the county more in revenues than it costs to build.

    “If you stop all economic development activity when there’s a downturn, then you’re going to punish yourself in the long term,” he said.

    It’s unclear exactly how much money the stadium will bring into the county.

    County economist Alife Meek has estimated that the 72 home games scheduled for the stadium will produce $14.6 million in new economic activity in the county, a small portion of which the county will capture in the form of tax collections.

    No one, Meek said, has so far studied what kind of impact the stadium will have on sales and property tax collections for the county. Meek said he expects to conduct that study once he has a better idea of what development around the stadium might look like.

    The officials in charge of building the stadium say they believe the $59 million price tag is the final cost, and that the stadium should be open in time for 10 consecutive home games in April.

    Commissioners interviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution all said they would be uncomfortable sending any more money to the project.

    “If they come back they’re going to have a lot of answering to do,” Commissioner Kevin Kenerly said.

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    Friday, September 05, 2008

    The cost for Gwinnett County’s taxpayer-funded minor league Braves stadium started to exceed the county’s $40 million estimate as early as March — less than two months after the project was announced — and reached as high as $62.4 million at one point, according to internal budget documents obtained Friday under Georgia’s Open Records Act.

    A small group of Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau and county officials ultimately decided to make $19 million in changes and upgrades, much of which aren’t required for the Braves to play ball.

    By March 31, the Triple-A ballpark had grown to 196,370 square feet, with a $45 million price tag, the records show. A month later, it grew by more than 14,000 square feet and its cost ballooned to $55.1 million.

    Gwinnett convention officials, who are building the project for the county, did not announce a final budget of $59 million until Aug. 29, with the stadium construction well under way. The county Board of Commissioners approved the increase Tuesday, with some saying they had little choice because the work was already under way.

    Asked why they did not disclose the rising figures earlier, GCVB officials said the price was changing up until late last month. That’s when they said they settled on a figure to put in their contract with their construction management company, Barton Malow Co. of Southfield, Mich.

    The numbers went up and down as officials toured minor league baseball stadiums in other states, added features, cut others and consulted the Dallas-based architectural firm of HKS Inc., Barton Malow and the Braves, while rushing to get the stadium open by the team’s baseball season in the spring.

    “Anything we let out would have been a hypothetical number,” GCVB Chairman Richard Tucker said. “You wouldn’t call a press conference or issue a press release to say, ‘We have some preliminary bids in and it is tracking higher’ because all the time we were still looking at, ‘What can we eliminate that is in the design?’ And, in fact, all of the design had not even been done. It just doesn’t work that way.”

    GCVB and county officials say some of the additional expenses are unavoidable, such as $1 million in increased costs for materials. Others will help save money in the future, including the $1.5 million plan to use highly treated wastewater to irrigate fields and flush toilets, which could save up to 7 million gallons of drinking water a year, GCVB officials said.

    But GCVB officials concede the stadium could be built without many of the additions, including the $7.5 million plan to build a concourse surrounding the stadium, erect canopies over some of the seating and the entrance and upgrade finishes. The GCVB is also considering spending more for a high-definition scoreboard, though that amount is not finalized, a convention and visitors bureau official said.

    County Commissioner Bert Nasuti said he was “stunned” when he first learned of the additional $19 million cost from GCVB officials last month. Still, Nasuti, who also serves on the GCVB board, said he voted along with fellow Gwinnett commissioners last week to cover that amount with county reserve funds so the ballpark would be “first class.”

    “We set a standard here of doing things correctly, doing things upscale, nice, family-friendly, user-friendly, good fan experience,” Nasuti said, adding county officials decided to “stick with that philosophy and build a first-class, state-of-the-art baseball stadium.”

    None of the other four county commissioners responded to a message left at their office Friday.

    GCVB officials have downplayed the role the Braves played in making changes, saying the team had a seat at the table in discussions but did not have final say on them. Budget documents and e-mails, however, show the Braves communicated directly with the construction management company and proposed numerous specific changes, including substituting a certain type of Bermuda grass for another in the infield.

    In a July 7 e-mail from the Braves director of engineering to a Barton Malow official, the team weighed in on many parts of the stadium, ranging from the parking lot lights to the bar and restaurant.

    A Braves spokeswoman declined to comment Friday.

    Nasuti said the stadium must adhere to certain minor league baseball standards, so it makes sense for the Braves to be directly involved, even if county taxpayers are footing the bill for much of the ballpark.

    “If a landlord is building a facility for a specific tenant… I don’t think it is unusual at all for the tenant to have some input in how it is being built,” Nasuti said.

    Barton Malow will be paid about 5 percent of the “hard” costs for the stadium, said Preston Williams, the GCVB’s point man for the construction project. Williams said last week that he could not immediately say precisely how much more Barton Malow will be paid based on the increased cost of the stadium. The AJC requested a copy of Barton Malow’s contract last week.

    Also among the correspondence the AJC obtained under the Open Records Act was an Aug. 30 e-mail a public relations firm sent Nasuti. In the e-mail, the Hayslett Group, which has been hired by the GCVB, offers a statement Nasuti could use to respond to questions from the public about the stadium cost increases.

    “Throughout the design process, very deliberate decisions were made that are impacting the scope of the project and, in turn, the final budget,” the statement reads in part. “Those decisions have focused on creating a world class facility with a greater attention to the overall fan experience and improved environmental standards and practices.”

    Meanwhile, the stadium’s foundations are complete and construction is slightly ahead of schedule, according to the GCVB, and the ballpark is expected to open by April.


    Here’s what county officials say goes into the increased cost:

    $7.5 million to extend the concourse all the way around the stadium, put a canopy over part of the stadium and upgrade finishes

    $1.5 million to allow for the use of highly treated wastewater to irrigate fields and flush toilets, saving 5 million to 7 million gallons of drinking water a year

    $6.8 million to put the stadium’s stormwater retention pond underground, remove unexpected rock, beef up retaining walls to maximize use of the site and increase the size of sewer pipes to deal with a longer-than-expected run to hook up with county facilities

    $1 million to account for increased material costs

    $2.2 million in management and design fees as well as increased insurance costs

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    Tuesday, September 09, 2008

    Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter called it irresponsible when Gwinnett County commissioners voted to fund $19 million in cost overruns and upgrades for the new Gwinnett Braves stadium project last week.

    The decision left Porter flabbergasted.

    “I think the commissioners are going to have to stand up and start making some real choices instead of just bread and circuses,” he said.

    Although the $19 million outlay will come from the county’s reserve fund — not the general fund, which pays for the operation of county departments — the district attorney draws little distinction.

    He enumerated a list of unfunded requests he had made for his office in the 2008 budget:

    • two victim assistance positions;
    • one prosecutor for juvenile court;
    • two assistant district attorneys for drug task force;
    • one criminal investigator for white-collar and computer crime; and
    • three additional investigators.

    Likewise, the county sheriff’s and police departments made requests for some new positions that went unfunded.

    Last year, county departments submitted requests for 372 new positions. The county commission adopted a budget funding 95 of those, mostly in courts and public safety. They include: four positions for the judiciary, two positions for the clerk of the court, two positions for the sheriff’s department; 30 for police; and eight positions for the district attorney.

    In the budgeting process, it is not unusual for departments to ask for more than they think they will get. And the county, typically budgets for more than departments spend. Leftover money goes into the county’s reserve fund, which stood at $152 million at the beginning of the year. Because of sales tax and other revenue shortfalls, coupled with the $19 million in stadium overruns, that reserve is expected to fall to $107 million by year’s end, an amount still well above the minimum the county has established for safe budgeting practices.

    County Commissioner Bert Nasuti, who has helped lead the drive for baseball in Gwinnett, said the stadium had no influence on the 2008 budgeting process.

    “Whatever shortfalls he (Porter) felt, they weren’t related to baseball,” Nasuti said, adding that serious arrangements to move the Braves’ minor league team to Gwinnett did not occur until well after the budget process for 2008 was completeted. “It wasn’t a budget influenced by baseball.”

    He said every governing board gets more requests for personnel than it can fund. Some positions, he said, are more expensive than others.

    When it comes to new positions, few struck out quite as badly as the sheriff’s office.

    Financial services department records for 2008 show the sheriff’s office had requested 20 positions for criminal warrant deputies and support staff; five positions in the training division, 18 for jail operations; 8 for civil warrant deputies; and three for internal affairs. None were funded.

    The only other positions request the sheriff made was for four court security officers. Two were funded.

    Additionally, the sheriff’s office had asked for 30 portable radios and 40 mobile data terminals for vehicles. All were denied.

    Sheriff Butch Conway has declined to comment.

    The fire department fared much better, receiving funding for 42 of the 71 positions it had requested.

    Capt. Thomas Rutledge, Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services spokesman, said the department has always received support from the county commission and the public.

    “The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners and the County Administrators Office has always been very supportive of public safety,” Rutledge said. “That has been our experience in the past, and I expect it to be the case well into the future.”

    Nasuti said public safety is a top priority for the commission.

    “The current board has put more police officers on the street than many of the years before,” Nasuti said. “As for the sheriff’s office, Nasuti said the commission has approved additional funding throughout the year when the department submits a request before the board.

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