2020 audit reveals revenue up, expenses down in Union

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2020 audit clay pilgrim

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Union County received a clean/unmodified opinion concerning its 2020 audit from Rushton and Company, a CPA firm.

Clay Pilgrim, CPA, CPE, CCF, delivered the information during the July County Commission meeting.

“I do have great news, this is real riveting information this audit, so I’m glad you joined us,” Pilgrim told the large crowd. He also thanked all county officials for their help.

The 2020 fiscal budget was amended down from $17,999,955 to $17,468,052 during the meeting as well.

The net position/ county equity covers three areas, net investments and capital assets, restricted net position, and unrestricted net position.  The total net position for the county in 2020 was $57,418,192.

  • Capital assets and net investments – $47,643,505 – examples: buildings, equipment
  • Restricted net position – $5,456,656 – example: SPLOST
  • Unrestricted net positions – $4,318,031 – example: residual

“For the year, there was an increase in net position, revenues exceeded expenses by $5,505,303. The largest reason for that increase was some operating grants and contributions that were received and sales tax increases as well with a lower expense increase overall,” Pilgrim stated.

In Union County’s General Fund also known as the operating budget, revenues increased 21 percent ($3,708,099) in 2020. Here’s the following breakdown of revenue increases:

2020 audit revenues by source. Sales Tax was the largest at 35 percent and property tax came in second at 32 percent.

  • Property taxes – $181,943
  • Title ad valorem – $543,158
  • Intangible taxes – $174,580
  • Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) – $922,524
  • Intergovernmental revenues – $1,358,375

“[LOST increase] is a trend we’re seeing across the mountain areas of the state with sales tax. Folks moving this way or spending time up in the mountains with the pandemic that took place last year,” Pilgrim added.

The property tax line includes the last seven years of digest, any collections paid in 2020, and assessments.

Expenses for the county also increased by 4.7 percent ($777,040). The breakdown is as follows.

  • General administration – $944,789 – the cost included capital outlay projects and the county reappraisal.
  • Sheriff’s office – $297,845 – personal services

One area of expenditures decreased and that was highways and streets which were under by $583,708 also for personal services.

The unassigned fund balance or general fund equity will allow the county to operate for 2.7 months. The fund balance is $3,896,041. Last year, the fund balance was $1,805,929 and could only operate for 1.3 months.

2020 audit expenses Public Safety was the largest at 35 percent and general government came in second at 27 percent.

Pilgrim explained that counties want to keep between two- or three months’ worth of monies in the fund balance in case of emergencies. In 2019, when the county increased property taxes by 17 percent on its side, Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris explained that the dip in the fund balance was part of the reason why.

SPLOST 5 went into effect in 2021 and thus far $51,780 has been expended on capital projects. The 2015 SPLOST or SPLOST 4 expended $6,210,663 in collected sales tax. SPLOST money can’t go into the general fund.

“It does typically reduce the need for other taxation,” Pilgrim commented because it goes toward capital projects.

However, SPLOST doesn’t go toward the operational costs. TSPLOST has a little more room concerning the operation of roads and bridges.

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.

Gordon County receives $89K in miscoded sales tax

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brookshire park
gordon county

Contributed photo
Gordon County officials are planning to upgrade the area around Brookshire Boat Ramp by adding a pavilion and picnic tables.

Audit finds SPLOST and LOST funds for Gordon County

Gordon County saw a 67-percent increase in Special Local Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST, and a 76-percent in LOST in September 2020 from September 2021. While it wasn’t exactly a mass shopping spree in Gordon County, it was the result of a sales tax coded wrong on the state level.

In September 2020-2021, LOST revenues were $867,534.93, $366,402.95 more than the $501,131.98 in September 2019-2020. SPLOST collections were $1,319,671.18, a $530,553.23 more than the same period last year.  That is a total amount of $896,956.

“They can’t share which company it was, but it was a major company,” said James Ledbetter, county administrator. “They had paid $247 million in sales tax that was coded wrong. They found it and gave it to us.”

According to the administrator’s report, Gordon County wasn’t the only county shorted funds as about $247 million dollars was coded as being due to the state and a decision was made to pay all the local governments a lump sum. It was caught during an audit. 

Grady bill reduced

grady memorial

Contributed photo
County officials cut an inmate’s medical bill from Grady Memorial Hospital by $150.000 to $9.000.

Ledbetter said the county was able to get an inmate’s medical bill cut by almost 96-percent. The county received a $159,000 hospital bill from Grady Memorial Hospital. The bill is from a severe self-inflicted inmate injury at the Gordon County Jail.

The bill dropped to $9,000 from $159,000 after Gordon County officials used the medical expense review service, provided by ACCG, to negotiate the bill.

“We have to provide care for inmates,” he said. “But I almost feel guilty about this.”

Other finance news: 

The Government Finance Officers Association of the United States has awarded the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Accounting to Gordon County. The Certificate of Achievement is the highest form of recognition in the area of Government Accounting and Financial Reporting. The award demonstrates the commitment of Gordon County Government to clearly communicate its financial picture to the public. Gordon County has received this recognition every year since Al Leonard became Finance Director in the early 2000’s.

gordon county

Contributed photo
The county plans to add picnic tables and a pavilion at Brookshire Park. Brookshire Park features a boat ramp into the river.

Brookshire park

The Oostanaula community in Gordon County might see some upgrades to the Brookshire Park. The passive park may include a pavilion and picnic tables. The county applied for a grant to help fund the upgrades. No estimate on cost is available as the work has not been bid out.

Employee Recognition

Macey Silvers of E-911 was recognized for seven years service with Gordon County.


The  Gordon County Board of Commissioners approved two zoning applications. Clyde and Cindy Burchett’s request to rezone property from A-1 to RA-A was approved and Oasis Detox Spa’s request to rezone from A-1 to O-I Office Institutional was conditionally approved, pending completion of the driveway.

Early voting

Early voting begins October 12 in the elections office on the bottom floor of the Courthouse Annex.



Will Gilmer feel an economic impact from cancelling the Apple Festival?

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the recent announcement of the cancellation of the 2020 Apple Festival, many are still wondering about the impact, the decisions, and the virus’ toll on the festival season.

Earlier this year, Chamber officials were planning on make-up days for the Apple Blossom Festival left over from May. At one point, discussions were set to host the Apple Blossom Festival in August and then the Apple Festival in October as normal. Now, neither of these festivals will see make-up days as the boards over each have fully cancelled the events.

Most of the citizens concerns voice through comments and social media revolve more around the virus than any economic impact. Some are applauding the choice, like Dylan Slade who called it a good decision stating, “Public Health Foremost.”

Still others are discounting the choice. Courtney Graham didn’t state whether she thought the cancellation was good or bad, but did state, “The apple houses are open, the rental cabins are open, they will still come.”

A Report of the Hotel/Motel Tax Collections for Gilmer County.

This statement does hold some merit as FYN gathered reports from the county and cities. According to Gilmer County’s Financial Officer, Sandi Holden, the collections of Hotel/Motel Tax in June alone reached $113,870. According to county records, their Hotel/Motel Tax has never been over $100,000 in the last three years. Comparing June to the same month in previous years, 2019 totaled $78,044. In 2018, June totaled $75, 108. In 2017, June totaled only $52,838.

Additionally, there has been only one month that reached $90,000. That was October 2019.

Ellijay is not that different, either. Their year-to-date report shows them already reaching $8,196 by July. Just under half of last year’s total collection of $16,882 and just over two-thirds of 2018’s $11,399 total.

However, October is consistently among the highest months for the county, showing that the Festival season does have a major impact on local economy. October was the highest month of the year for Hotel/Motel Tax in both 2018 and 2019. In 2017, it was third highest behind November and July, the highest month.

Digging deeper than just Hotel/Motel Tax, SPLOST collections on sales tax in the County paint a very similar story with one notable difference.

SPLOST Collections for the last six years show certain trends, but nothing is set to predict the coming three months.

Just like the Hotel/Motel, SPLOST shows the months of June and July of 2020 setting records for collections in the county. According to Holden, June 2020 saw a SPLOST revenue of $440,176. July 2020 saw a SPLOST Revenue of $453,981.

SPLOST Revenue has only gone above $400,000 three times in the last six years. December 2019 reached $406,020. November 2018 reached $400,655. In those years, October has never gone above $400,000. The final also came in 2020, January reached $401,243.

Therein lies the difference. Whereas the Hotel/Motel Tax saw major increases in October, SPLOST collections saw less so, with October usually falling behind November and December in collections.

Comparatively, April of 2020, which worried local county and city governments and saw halts to projects and capital spending as they awaited the numbers to see how bad the economy would get, saw a collection of $374,630. Higher than any previous year’s October except 2019.

Locals are split with some saying they are happy with the decision and others questioning different signals from different entities. Some online have commented saying that one entity is cancelling the festival while another entity is pushing forward with opening schools, a hot topic in August with news stories from all over Georgia highlighting the issue.

However, one downtown business owner is optimistic despite the cancelled festival.


Craftsmen, Food Vendors, artists, musicians, and many others are a part of the annual festival that stretches far beyond just the fairgrounds and ecmpossaes Apple Arts, a parade, musical shows, a beauty pageant, car shows, and more across two weekends.

Steve Cortes, owner of WhimZ Boutique and Heart and Vine and a former head of the merchant’s association, said, “It’s certainly going to have an impact.”

Cortes explained, however, that his hope is that a lot of people will still come. Even in recent years, he notes that his business has had many vacationers, leaf-lookers, and others who either didn’t know of the Festival or weren’t planning to attend.

Cortes admitted there would be an impact, but added on saying, “I don’t think it’s going to have as big of an impact as everybody fears.”

He said that he believes many of the counties visitors have already made plans and probably won’t cancel them. And so he is preparing for an increase as he notes he has continued following guidelines with masks and other ways to combat the virus in his store.

One major note he added, is that August is looking better than his recent months in the business. Comparing sales and business with previous years, August has been optimistically close.

Comparisons of finances are suggesting just as many people could be heading our way in October. It seems an impact is coming, but no clear picture is available yet on what kind of increase or decrease could be seen. Cancelling the festival could mean that business is more spread out across the county, or it could mean overcrowded Apple Houses and Vineyards. It could either mean a more spread out October instead of focused into two weekends, or it could mean a dip from the record setting two months that the county has seen in June and July.

Board of Education meets Tuesday


WHITE COUNTY, Ga. – The White County Board of Commissioners will meet in a voting session Tuesday (June 23) at 8 a.m. School Superintendent Dr. Laurie Burkett will review the voter-approved 2020 education special purpose local option sales tax.

White County voters gave an overwhelming thumbs up to the $29,500,000 one percent tax on June 9. The funds will allow the school system to replace the roof at Tesnatee Gap Elementary School, purchase new school buses, new technology and make improvements to athletic fields.

Other items to be considered by Board members include:

  • Re-opening of schools
  • SPLOST requests for June
  • CTAE State and Federal Grants
  • Cannery
  • Summer Feeding/Book Giveaway
  • Family Connections FY21 Contract
  • Approval of personnel
  • Approve of Family Connections FY21 Contract
  • Approve CTAE State and Federal Grants



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