Union County 2021 operating budget adopted

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2021 operating budget

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – The 2021 operating budget for Union County was officially set in a called meeting on December 28, 2020.

The total budget for $21,748,780 which was an 11.7 increase from 2020. In a public hearing, Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris cited several reasons for the rising budget including state cuts, property reevaluation, potential gun range costs, COVID-19 expenses, and other various expenses.

Paris thanked his staff, finance director Laura Driskell, purchasing director Pam Hawkins, and county manager Larry Garrett for working to create a streamlined budget.

The 2021 budget incorporated a property tax hike of 17 percent on the county side – a 6.8 percent increase overall. The previous year’s budget fell short of making ends meet by almost $1 million so a property tax increase was necessary. However, the ongoing property reevaluation could drop taxes next year.

SPLOST collections skyrocketed in 2020 and several SPLOST projects are planned in 2021 using the last four months of SPLOST 4 collections and eight months of SPLOST 5. The projects are as follows:

  • Jail Roof replacement
  • View Grill expansion
  • Courthouse HVAC – 2 large roof top units’ replacement
  • Meeks Park new restroom facility
  • New convenience center for trash and recycling on north end of county
  • Future jail property (second half of payment)
  • Sheriff’s Office vehicles
  • Road work and paving
  • City of Blairsville projects
  • New pumper engine/fire truck
  • Road department dump truck and other equipment and vehicles
  • Balls fields complex in front of Farmers Market
  • Senior Center upgrades/addition
  • SAFE shelter upgrades/addition
  • Suches Community Center floor replacement

For a more detailed breakdown of the 2021 operating budget, read this article.

Commissioner Bradshaw reviews 2021 operating budget

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2021 operating budget

HIAWASSEE, Ga – Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw presented the 2021 operating budget for the county which features a $90,000 increase from last year.

The 2020 budget was $11,174,990, and the total for 2021 is $11,265,590. The county’s currently in the midst of a spending freezing because of COVID-19, and Towns’ officials’ frugality will actually place them under budget for 2020.

“It’s a very sound budget. We have added a few things to this, animal control,” Bradshaw commented. “[The sheriff-elect] is going to hire a deputy/ animal control person.”

Since Towns County is so small, the individual will perform both deputy and animal control duties. The animal control budget will be $104,000. It includes the salary, benefits, training, supplies, shelter donations, and spay and neuter program. The expense could increase or decrease next year according to what the county needs. They already have a truck and kennel for an animal control program. In the past, the road department managed animal control. Bradshaw asked Sheriff Clinton to take over animal control when Bradshaw took office.

“I feel like we need the next level of animal control. Someone with a badge and trained to take liability off the county. Somebody’s that’s trained for animal control,” Bradshaw explained.

Sheriff-elect Ken Henderson received an additional $30,000 for new uniforms and re-decal the patrol cars. It’s part of his plan to improve the sheriff’s office image.

The library budget increased by $49,700 to assist in reopening the Young Harris library. The building temporarily closed to the public on December 1. Hopefully, it will reopen by the end of January 2021.

Bradshaw assured there was adequate money to “improve the road on Bell Mountain.”

The 2021 budget also featured a $0.50 per hour salary increase, which equates to around $150,000.

“I’m excited through frugal, frugal business practices and the help of Mrs. Linda and Andrea that we’ve been able to supply all the services and even upgrade a lot and give raises and we haven’t had to raise the millage rate,” Bradshaw remarked.

The Towns County millage rate hasn’t increased since 2008.

Sales tax revenue, SPLOST and hotel/motel, unexpected soared in 2020 putting Towns County in good financial shape to offer raises and plan for the future.

Andrea Anderson, finance director, stated, “When the governor opened back up, our revenues went up, our tourism went up.”

Neither Bradshaw nor Anderson wanted to guess if the upward tractor would continue in 2021 with a new president and COVID-19 still lingering.

“I don’t know what to anticipate,” Bradshaw said. “I’m looking at it as a business and we’re going to be as frugal as we can because we don’t know what the future is going to be.”

This conservative nature will continue until Bradshaw feels secure about the economic direction of the country.

Paris presents 2021 budget, set to adopt Monday

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2021 budget Union Commissioner Lamar Paris COVID-19

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – In a public hearing for the 2021 budget, Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris presented the $21,748,780 budget. It will be adopted on December 28 at 4:30 p.m. at the Union County Courthouse.

The budget featured an 11.7 percent increase from 2020, which was $19,462,648. The reasons for the increases included three percent pay raise to county employees (+$440,000), property reevaluation (+$380,000), county’s potential share of gun range expenses (+$500,000), state cutting budgets (+$70,000), health care costs (+$100,000), vehicle and equipment repairs (+$20,000), repairs and maintenance (+$22,000), vehicle purchases (+$40,000), retirement plan matching (+$36,000), LMIG grants (-$104,000), operating costs for the new sports center, and COVID-19 expenses.

The county had to raise financing for the library, health department, court system, and other partially state-funded organizations because the state cut budgets by 15 percent.

The $500,000 budgeted for the gun range could decrease depending on the outcome of the project. DNR listed exacting specifications to receive aid.

copy of the 2021 budget

Several departments and offices experienced a budget escalation from 2020 with a few decreasing such as elections and health. The three percent employee raise and accounting for state budget cuts account for some of the increases.

“Every year our department heads and elected officials submit their budget requests to our office. We go through all the numbers and items compared to previous years budgets and actual expenditures and cut anywhere possible to get our total budget as low as we reasonably can. However, this is a difficult task because all our county offices and departments do an outstanding job each and every year to be practical and responsible with our budgets.” Paris stated.

County revenues grew in 2020 as well. SPLOST collections well outpaced previous years with November reaching $528,176.50.

The millage rate was set in the summer and increased to 7.361 mills. The overall increase will be 6.8 percent on the school property taxes are factored in. A homestead property with a market value of $100,000 will see a $46.25 tax hike. A non-homestead property valued at $200,000 will experience a $97.26 tax increase.

For years, Paris kept the millage rates low to save property owners money, but the county found it necessary to raise the millage rate this year to replenish the fund balance and cover operating expenses. According to the commissioner, if the counties maintained previous millage rates, Union County’s new rate would still rank in the lowest 10 percent in Georgia.

“Property tax revenue in 2020 was short almost $1 million dollars,” Paris explained.

The tax increase generated $1,629,229.

He also addressed the need to raise salaries for the sheriff’s office, jail, 911 dispatch to keep employees in the county. Paris thanked Sheriff Mack Mason for trying to keep costs low.

A state-required county property reevaluation is currently underway, so the millage rate could drop next year. The cost of the reevaluation is $380,000.

Fannin Commissioners approve 2021 budget

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2021 budget

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – The three Fannin County Commissioners approved the 2021 operating budget after some discussion about the sheriff’s account.

The total 2021 budget was $29,356,858 plus $87,675 for the sheriff’s office. The addition kept the sheriff’s account the same as it was in 2020.

“A good flat budget. I’m pleased that everybody’s pitched in to try and get us through a very difficult time and keep the county financially whole,” Chairman Stan Helton said.

Sheriff Dane Kirby came before the commission board to discuss adding $87,675 back into his budget for car purchases. The amount would leave the sheriff’s office with the same operating budget as in 2020.

Previously, the Sheriff’s Office budget had a line item for lease purchases, and they asked for it to be moved to salaries, according to Chairman Stan Helton. They made their final lease payment in 2020, so Kirby wanted to use the money to buy vehicles in 2021.

“Our last meeting, we had, we were not going to put any salary increases for anyone other than what was mandated by the state,” Helton explained. He also addressed that the sheriff’s office received 25 percent of public safety SPLOST. The sheriff’s office has $34,000 budgeted for capital outlay in 2021, and $100,000 will come from SPLOST.

Sheriff Kirby explained that the amount would purchase three cars, and the office needs five. Without adding the $87,675 back, Kirby would have used the $50,000 from the small equipment and tools line item.

“We will know at the end of January where the county stands because everything will be finally tabulated for 2020,” Helton commented. “What my strategy was: is to leave [it]. You have $134,000 that is immediately available, and if you needed to get two more cars, it would be just a matter of the new board to amend your budget from that.”

Sheriff Dane Kirby wanted his budget restored to the 2020 amount.

“I asked everyone to stay where they were at. I didn’t agree to cut anybody,” Post One Earl Johnson said.

Kirby explained that he tell the car dealer if they were committed to purchasing the car.

“He’s got a handful of vehicles on the lot, and we’ve got five of them spoken for, but if we don’t take them right after the first of the year, he’s going to have to sell them to somebody else,” Kirby commented.

The cars would be fully equipped and cost approximately $42,000 each.
Kirby also spoke about the need to increase salaries in the sheriff’s office, stating it’s difficult to recruit people into the county when neighboring areas are paying more.

The recreation department’s budget increased in 2021 because of the pre-school program – approximately $58,000.

Fannin proposed 2021 budget features 2 percent increase

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insurance

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – The 2021 proposed county operating budget features a 2.8 percent increase from the 2020 budget.

The total will be $29,356,858 and a public hearing concerning the 2021 budget will take place on December 8, 2020 at 5:15 p.m. in third-floor assembly room. All interested parties are invited to attend. Following the public hearing, the board of commissioners will approve the budget during the December 8 commission meeting.

The 2020 budget was $28,564,665. The largest portion of the budget will go towards risk management, which includes health insurance. The county recently moved from self-insured to a fully insured plan.

“The challenge we have this year with the budget is the same challenge that every county, every state is having to deal with that is the [unexpected COVID-19 expenditures],” Chairman Stan Helton explained.

He cited the $2 billion of cutbacks in the state budget due to the pandemic. Helton also recognized that the hotel/motel tax and SPLOST assisted in seeing Fannin County through the difficult times.

“We really won’t know how the year is until the end of January when the new administration is here. By that time, they will have final 2020 revenue and cost numbers. My personal opinion that the times warrant being as conservative as we can with our budget, and at the same time, when the new administration is here, they’ll have a chance to look at it. If they choose to amend any department, they’ll have the option to do that.,” Helton furthered detail the reasoning behind the proposed budget.

2021 proposed budget

Fannin hasn’t laid off or furloughed employees during the pandemic.

Post One Earl Johnson came out against the increase during a year when everyone is focused on saving money.

“I don’t know any of us that are spending more money…We’re not giving all our employees raising at least in my company and it’s kind of throughout all county governments,” Johnson said. “I’m going to ask everyone until this pandemic is over, we need to be very smart…I would suggest everyone be comfortable where you’re at.”

He added that he doesn’t want to leave “any future administration’s in a bind” and is against increasing any department’s budget in 2021. No one knows when the pandemic will end.

Post Two Glenn Patterson stated that some people are still hurting financially and inquired to the cost of living increases.

Helton then explained that the only increased in the 2021 budget were part of a state unfunded mandate for salary increases to reelected officials. It’s a state-level requirement for county governments to fulfill. CFO Robin Gazaway explained that one elected official will receive an estimated salary increase of $9,000 from county funds. The state doesn’t have to pay anything.

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