ELLIJAY, Ga. – Receiving their Audit Report, Gilmer County saw a generally good audit, with most portions finding no deficiencies and the company delivering a “clean, unmodified opinion.”
According to the Rushton audit report, the county’s general Audit Opinion Letter reported as clean and unmodified, meaning that the company’s opinion is that financial statements were fairly stated and had no issue.
Delving into the audit and breaking down the county’s position saw several different points of financial interest along with comments on one area.
Despite the COVID Outbreaks and issues, the audit reveals increases in the county’s unrestricted funds showcasing that even though the virus and issues occurred, Gilmer saw an increase in spending and in areas like the Hotel/Motel Tax.
Gilmer already noticed the trend last year as research done on the SPLOST Tax during the COVID outbreak showed surprising increases in June and July of 2020. This was surprising because the county halted capital spending earlier in 2020 and many locals saw businesses closing due to the virus. However, those that did stay open saw an influx of people. Many attributed the influx to visitors to the county attempting to flee the major cities during the worst parts of the the COVID shutdown.
There were increases in costs according to the audit, some of the larger ones came through Fire and Road Departments, but saw slight decreases in other areas like the Detention Center.
According to Chris Hollifield, who presented the Audit Report on behalf of Rushton, the county increased in “unassigned fund balance” from $6.3 million to $10.2 million. Hollifield said, “That’s about 5.5 months of our expenditures for 2020. So, when you think about the health of the county, where should we be? We expect to be three to four months minimum… We have those ‘reserves,’ if you will, to carry forward to the next year’s budget.”
These reserves have been brought up in Audits over the years as important items. Auditors relayed that they registered the balance by months of expenditures because they saw that if something dire happened and no revenue comes in, then the county could cover its costs for the stated number of months.
Hollifield said the county has done a good job getting to this point as he could remember in the past when the county could not achieve that reserve.
The audit also noted that the county received support in its funding. Some of the funding for expenditures and capital outlays came through the CARES Act funds.
With another letter on internal control matters, laws compliance, grants and debts agreements. The audit report noted five deficiencies and two non-compliance including one overbudget and timing on payouts. The comments seemed to revolve around deposits’ timing. Though Hollifield noted that some considerations could be made for COVID delaying certain things, they noted that deposits were not made weekly like they, the audit company, would have liked to seen.
The Audit also noted no findings or issues in the handling of government funding like in the CARES Act. As the county handled the governement funds and they exceeded $750,000, Hollifield said this isn’t a usual report for the county, but was required specifically because the total amount of funding exceeded that limit.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – Twelve Commission Chairmen from North Georgia counties have joined together and signed a letter asking Governor Brian Kemp to shut down the State Parks.
“It appears that these nonresidents believe our area is a safe haven because of its rural nature. To the contrary, the influx of people into our communities has had a staggering detrimental effect on our resources,” the letter to Kemp read in part.
The letter goes on to outline the resources in our area that have been affected by the out-of-towners looking to seclude themselves, including in these resources are food, dry goods and fuel.
It goes on to inform Kemp that our area is not equipped medically: “Our communities simply do not have enough hospital beds or medical personnel to care for the inflated population.”
Though only serving as a commissioner for a little over three months, Habersham County Commissioner District 5 Tim Stamey felt he needed to be proactive in bringing a solution to this problem: “I am a retired special operator and we don’t sit around talking about things, we get it done.”
Stamey who sits on the County Health Board said, “I’m on the County Health Board and talk to Healthcare workers in my county on a daily basis. They are the heros/heroines in all this. This virus does not spread itself on the wind.”
Moccasin Creek State Park, situated just North of Unicoi State park has been “crazy, 4th of July crazy” for the past three weekends according to Stamey, who has witnessed the impact on his county first hand.
Stamey initially contacted Rabun County Chairman Greg James and White County Chairman Travis Turner.
“I started this by just trying to get border counties on board,” Stamey said and added, “Then Chairmen were like well, did you call such and such, I know they feel the same way. It just kept getting bigger and bigger.”
Stamey said that all Commission Chairmen were helpful, on board, and taking the matter seriously: “I talked to most of them several times and for up to an hour each time.”
Stamey, along with the 12 county chairmen and many residents, is hoping that this letter will get the attention of Kemp. The letter in closing states: “On behalf of the many citizens that live in North Georgia who entrust us as County Commissioners to represent their interests, we respectfully ask you to close all of the state parks located in our area immediately.”