Pickens BOE sets millage after Executive Session for personnel

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JASPER, Ga. – A special called meeting of the Pickens County Board of Education met this week and put the final approval on the board’s millage rate.

Upon calling the meeting to order and approving the agenda, however, the Pickens County Board of Education retreated to an executive session to discuss, as Board Chair Sue Finley read, “the appointment, employment, compensation, hiring, disciplinary action or dismissal or periodic evaluation or rating of a public officer or employee. Or to interview applicants for the position of superintendent.”

The board took no action upon exiting executive session, but instead moved on to the regular agenda.

An official motion came to approve the Board of Education’s millage rate at 14.30 mills. Board Member Aaron Holland made the motion with a second from Steve Smith.

This sets the millage rate 0.53 mills lower than last year and continuing the steady decline according to the school’s 5-year history of the tax levied.

BOE Budget, millage

BOE FY 22 Initial Budget

The system estimates, according to the 5-year history, $22,648,385 in total M&) taxes levied. The budget denotes $24,908,755 in local taxes.

Finley said, “I would like to thank Mr. Young and Ms. Smith for their hard work to make this happen to bring our budget to the point where we can have our millage rate at 14.30 and still have our budget in the black. Thank you very much.”

A unanimous vote for both the millage rate and the FY 22 budget saw the board passing an initial budget for the year.

That budget totals $48.7 million, estimating that the school system’s fund balance will remain at $10.5 million.

 

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.

New budget could bring changes to Public Works in 2021

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Public Works

ELLIJAY, Ga. – “The year of Roads and Bridges” is what Gilmer Commissioner Chairman Charlie Paris said he wanted for the 2021 budget in order to improve Public Works. One comment among many as Gilmer’s BOC is still hammering out details for its coming year.

That comment is something that he has done many times over recent years during budget sessions as he has stated that he wanted to focus on getting departments up to par through that extra focus, whether it came through the Maintenance & Operations (M&O) Budget or through the Capital budget.

This year, Some of that extra focus for roads is coming through capital as the county is funding new equipment for the department through capital expenditures and funding almost all of their capital requests along with the county looking to increase Public Works employees pay. Though the Public Works request came for 5 percent, the county looked for ways to maybe increase this a little more, to potentially 8 percent.

On the revenue side, an increase is coming with changes to the weighed trash drop off. Now becoming 14 cents per pound, the rate is similar to surrounding counties, including neighboring Fannin County who Public Works Director Jim Smith says is 12 cents per pound. However, Smith also noted that his requested changes included the elimination of individual charges for items like sofas and appliances. Now, all of that type of construction and demolition trash will follow the 14 cents per pound rate. Additionally, passenger tire disposal went to $5 and larger truck tire disposal went to $12.

If adopted, these changes go into place January 1, 2021.

Another point of note in the budget came as Paris pointed out the county is currently repaying its TAN at around $400k. In previous years, the county has been excited that the TAN has been pushing further back for use. However, they have yet to completely negate the need for a TAN as was their hope. However, in recent years that TAN has been more akin to a $1.5 million repayment.

While Paris and Sandi Holden, Gilmer’s Financial Officer, attributed some of this difference to CARES ACT funding coming for capital expenses and the way it is handled, Paris said that this wouldn’t make the entire million dollar difference they have. Additionally, the county has received additional funds this year through sales tax in LOST and SPLOST for parts of the budget as well.

Paris said the county would know next year just how much this number has been affected by unusual circumstances as to how much it mirrors this year’s $400,000 or the previous year closer to $1.5 million.

The budget is coming up for adoption and Public Comments this week as the Board of Commissioners meet for the Public Hearing at 5:30 p.m. and the Regular Meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, December 10, 2020. The BOC did cancel their Wednesday Worksession.

Jasper considers 2.125 mill increase in early budgeting process

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JASPER, Ga. – The City of Jasper is holding meetings with citizens to discuss plans to move forward with a major increase of its Millage Rate.

The increase being considered is a 45.6 percent increase over the 4.655 mills that the city has held for three years now. In 2017, the rate was set at 4.655 mills from 2016’s 4.683 mills.

The proposed Millage Rate for 2020 is 6.78 mills. An increase of 2.125 mills.

Millage Rate

A comparison sheet shown by City Manager Brandon Douglas in the September 24, 2020, public hearing for the millage rate.

The last time the rate was raised was 2001 when it went from 4.630 mills to 4.710 mills. The last time the millage rate was over 6 mills was 1996 when it was set at 6.850 mills.

According to City Manager Brandon Douglas, he met with the finance department and department heads, they found that normal operating costs produced a preliminary 2021 budget held a deficit of roughly $551,000. He also noted that indications pointed to a two to two-and-half percent increase in revenues while expenditures increase at three to five-and-a-half percent per year.

Douglas said, “That is not a sustainable financial model.”

He went on to say that the city needs corrective action for the finances. The gap between revenue and expenditures that the city is seeing has come from not correcting these issues sooner.

Douglas also noted the importance of property taxes as they make up 30 percent of the total revenue budget for the city. Many of the sources of revenue that make up the other 70 percent are unknown or not directly controlled by officials and the city. This puts the point of the property tax as something directly controlled by these elected officials.

There will be another meeting of the city at 5:30 p.m. on October 5, 2020, to hear more from the public on the proposed millage rate as Douglas stated, “It is staff’s goal to work with the elected officials through this public hearing process to recommend and adopt a millage rate that is reflective of providing a balanced budget. It is not our goal to just simply adopt a 6.78 millage rate.”

He noted that by the October 5 meeting of the Jasper City Council, he hopes to have gotten with officials through their committees to identify “ways to reduce certain preliminary department budgets.”

As a part of the budget process, the millage rate is adopted before the budget is adopted. The plan for the 2021 budget, according to Douglas, is adoption on December 7, 2020. Working towards that  goal. This process is way to see what the budget could look like in order to have the budget in mind while adopting the millage rate which must be adopted first before the actual budget is adopted.

BOC Meeting called two days before Christmas

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners are calling for one last meeting in 2019.

Next week will see a special called meeting for the board, but it will come two days before Christmas Day. The schedule sets the meeting to begin at 8:30 a.m. on the morning of December 23, 2019.

While the meeting agenda is set with only three items, it almost got bigger last week with the Board of Commissioners looking to add a few items tabled from their regular meeting.

With Public Works Director Jim Smith returning to the meetings after taking personal time, the Commissioners had originally tabled the Concrete Bid agenda item from November. Commission Chairman Charlie Paris asked to table the bid again until this meeting on December 23 to give Smith more time to analyze the bids. However, taking time as the meeting progressed Smith worked on the bid submissions to make sure to give the board an answer. The board wound up awarding the bid in the meeting and cancelling its addition to this meeting.

However, the meetings’ second addition did not get canceled as new information is arising from the agenda item to consider possible action to rent Airport space to the Georgia Forestry Commission. The board is taking extra time to investigate issues with the Forestry Commission’s previous rental space in Pickens and agreement details.

The meeting will go forward with three agenda items;
1.Discussion and possible action to rent Airport space to the Georgia Forestry Commission
2. Discussion and possible action on approval of an MOU with SORBA/IMBA
3. Resolution to Adopt the 2020 Budget.

 

Budget: Fiscal Year 2017 Financial Statements Audit

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The city of Blue Ridge audit has been reviewed by Welch, Walker & Associates and they found no issues or changes needed to be made in the report. This information is summed up from December 31, 2017. The audit was finished in June of 2018 and has been approved with no changes.

The auditors are looking at items like capital projects, funding, big downtown projects, and new water rates. The auditors judge the financial reports based on a three-tier system: the highest level is 3) Material Weakness (most serious issues), 2) Significant Deficiencies and the lowest level is 1) Management Comments—these aren’t even shared in the report as they are minute.

Findings found in the Blue Ridge financial report that are tested. There were three Significant Deficiencies findings within the Blue Ridge audit.

2015-01: “Lack of segregation of duties” and this is a very common finding in a ‘small-town’ community.  This just means that there’s only one person working in a position where mistakes can be made and there’s no additional person to go back and check over reports, data entry, etc.

2015-02: “Lack of contract for revenue transactions” a few years ago it was spotted that the franchise tax agreement between the tri-state EMC and the city of Blue Ridge is outdated and it’s not been renewed officially on paper. There are a few things that need to be updated within the contract and it needs to be signed by Tri-State EMC. This has been addressed and is something the city of Blue Ridge has been working on.

2017-01: “Rates were not calculating properly in the software” this is a new finding but has already been addressed and fixed. For the new water bills in 2017, the rates were not calculating correctly in the software but was fixed in May of 2018 while they were going over the audit. Since the amount of money was ‘material’ it needed to go in the report. The ‘material’ amount was 32,110.00 from 2017 and 12,850.00 from January-May of 2018.

The 2017-01 error was the city’s software error and will not be charged to the citizens of Blue Ridge.

Gooch: Senate Gets Down to Business

State & National

Senate Gets Down to Business

By: Sen. Steve Gooch (R – Dahlonega)

Although the Senate was in session for only two days this week, my colleagues and I were very busy under the Gold Dome addressing budget proposals and a key piece of legislation on the Senate Floor.

The week started with Joint Senate and House Appropriations hearings on the Amended FY18 and General FY19 budgets. Governor Deal kicked off the hearings which included several different agencies presenting their budget proposals. I am happy to say that the state’s budget continues to be in good shape, with the General FY19 budget topping $26 billion for the first time. The General FY19 budget proposals were drafted with an estimated 2.9 percent state fund growth and around 3.8 percent tax revenue growth over the Amended FY18 revenue estimates. Included in the General FY19 budget are increases in funding for education and transportation.

The General FY19 budget addresses the needs for the state to meet determined employer contributions within the Teachers Retirement System with a proposed increase of around $364 million. Additionally, around $120 million would be appropriated for enrollment growth and training. Along with these positive changes in the General FY19 budget, an important proposal in the Amended FY18 budget is adding $15 million to purchase 194 school buses statewide. This will positively impact our students by ensuring that buses are not overcrowded.

The state’s growing need to address transportation infrastructure is also addressed in the General FY19 budget. An additional $31.6 million in projected revenues resulting from House Bill 170 – passed during the 2015 Legislation Session – will be added to the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) budget. I am very happy to see that a piece of legislation we passed a couple of years ago is still making positive impacts for GDOT.

Along with attending the budget hearings and carefully reviewing the proposals for the Amended FY18 and General FY19 budgets, my colleagues and I took up a very important piece of legislation in Senate Chamber. On Thursday, the Senate passed the Supporting and Strengthening Families Act, also known as the Adoption Bill, or HB 159. This bill passed with bipartisan support and is now headed over to the House of Representatives for their review. Final passage of this legislation and a signature into law by the Governor would allow our state to update our adoption system which has been the same for nearly 30 years.

The Senate’s version of HB 159 clarifies many of the laws regarding who can adopt, who can act as a legal guardian and the rights held by the biological parents before and after giving their child up for adoption. Additionally, the version the Senate passed on Thursday states that if an agency is not involved in a private adoptive process, living expenses cannot be paid. The only expenses that can be paid in a private adoption are medical and counseling. These are just some of the highlights of the Senate version of HB 159. As this legislation moves through the legislative process, my colleagues and I will work with the Governor and House of Representatives to ensure there is cooperation to address concerns anyone may have. It is imperative that we pass this legislation so that we can assist the large number of children who are in foster care and need a loving and stable home.

The pace of the session is going to pick up quickly with standing committees beginning to hold meetings next week to vet legislation pending from last year along with new bills introduced this year. As we move forward in the session, please do not hesitate to reach out with questions, concerns and feedback. It is always great to hear from my constituents and our door is always open.

Hiawassee City Council: Special Called Meeting, 7/18/17

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Photo: (L-R)
Councilman Kris Berrong, Mayor pro tem Liz Ordiales, City Clerk Cenya Galloway 
Not Pictured: Councilmembers Anne Mitchell and Jay Chastain

HIAWASSEE, GA –  Council members assembled at City Hall on Tuesday evening, July 18, to announce the millage rate for 2018, review the budget, and provide an update on moratorium work.

Liz Ordiales, Hiawassee Mayor pro tem, reported the millage rate will remain at 2.258% which will amount to $165,157.00 if everyone within the city’s limits pays their taxes. Ordiales stated the percentage is “dirt bottom” in comparison to other regions with the exception of Blairsville. Blairsville receives additional revenue from their airport.

The most notable change to the moratorium was the adoption of regulation requiring owners of property under an acre to follow the same rules as those with larger parcels. The height restriction remains at 35 feet and a 10 foot easement is necessary to ensure adequate space for neighboring property lines. The updated moratorium in its entirety will be posted on the City’s website.

The 2017-2018 budget is itemized in detail on the City’s worksheets and proposed as follows:

Hotel/Motel Fund: $60,000.00

SPLOST Fund: $349,000.00

Water Fund: $1,611,300.00

Water Treatment Fund: $810,200.00

Sewer Fund: $785,120.00

Hiawassee City Council meets on the last Monday of each month for work sessions and assembles for regular sessions on the Monday prior. Due to the calendar’s composition, regular sessions fall on the third or fourth week of each month.

Senator Steve Gooch 3/31/16

Opinion

State Senator Steve Gooch of District 51 talks legislation for Georgia and Voting Questions.

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