Tax assessor vehicle situation brought before commissioners

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – At the Tuesday, Jan. 23, Fannin County Board of Commissioners meeting, county Board of Assessors member Troy Junnier presented the assessors’ case for two replacement vehicles for that department.

Junnier told the commissioners of the recent problems with two vehicles within the tax assessors’ fleet: a 2004 Ford Explorer with 190,252 miles and a 2003 Chevrolet 1500 four-wheel drive truck with 193,384 miles. According to Junnier, the county mechanic recommended that the Explorer be taken out of service due to a safety issue, as much of the sub-frame of this vehicle is badly rusted.

“There hasn’t been a price told (to) us as to how to fix (the Explorer) … It’s a 2004 Explorer. It’s got 190-something thousand miles on it , so it’s probably done,” Junnier stated.

As for the Chevrolet truck, Junnier explained that all six of the tax assessors fleet vehicles had recently been inspected by the county mechanic, considering issues related to the vehicle’s engine, chassis, transmission, brakes, steering and driveline, and the Chevrolet truck received a rating of 36 out of a 99-point scale.  In addition to the low rating, Junnier stated to the commissioners that the truck suffered transmission issues immediately following its inspection, which has left the vehicle out of commission.

“We were told by (Public Works Director) Zack (Ratcliff), out at the (county garage), it’s going to be somewhere between $3,000 and $6,500 to repair (the Chevrolet truck),” Junnier said. “The value of that truck is $3,000 to $3,500, so it’s not worth throwing $3,000 at it or $6,500 at it to put it back out on the road.”

Junnier went on to say that both the Explorer and Chevrolet truck were “hand-me-down” vehicles, given to the tax assessors department from other county departments.

“Hand-me-down vehicles probably aren’t the way to go with a department that needs vehicles to run,” Junnier told the commissioners. “Both of those vehicles were probably at or near the end of their life cycles when we got them.”

Junnier continued to explain that the tax assessors department had requested additional funds in its budget for the last two years to purchase one extra vehicle to add to the fleet, but the approved budgets from the Board of Commissioners has not allowed that proposed vehicle purchase for the department.

“Obviously, you don’t think we need the extra (vehicle),” Junnier said to the commissioners, “but with these two going down and out of service, we’re asking if we can … immediately get two vehicles to replace the two that were taken out of service.”

He continued to explain other county departments, such as the Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Medical Services (EMS), occasionally utilize the tax assessors’ vehicles during periods of inclement weather because all of the vehicles within the department’s fleet are four-wheel drive. Junnier also alluded to the recently lifted consent order from the Georgia Department of Revenue on the county’s tax assessor department and the accompanying $130,000 fine.

“We’re at a point to where we have to do something to maintain our ability to work,” Junneir stated. “We’ve got to meet certain requirements put out to us by the state.”

Junnier lobbied for the purchase of new vehicles, rather than slightly used, because of the accompanying warranties. He told commissioners the tax assessors department had investigated the potential purchase of two new Jeep Wranglers because of the maneuverability of such vehicles and said quotes the department had received were $30,000 each for a base model, which Junnier admitted he thought was a high quote.

Later, Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton clarified that the tax assessors’ 2018 budget of approximately $848,000 is actually $54,000 more than the approximate amount of what was spent ($794,000) in the tax assessors department  in 2017. Helton also questioned the reasoning behind the number of expenditures within the department that came later in 2017.

“What I don’t understand is we have purchases for chairs, we have purchases for laser measurers – which you may need – and computers. From about mid-to-late-November to December, there was something like $10,000 spent on things … if you needed them, why did you wait till the end of the year?” Helton asked.

Junnier told Helton the department prioritized the some of the less urgent expenditures until the end of the year so that the department would be sure to stay within its budget. He said, “When you prioritize things like that, you put things off until you know you’re going to have the money … The last thing you really want to do is come back to the Board (of Commissioners) and say, ‘Hey, we messed up. We don’t have the money we needed.'”

Helton clarified that the tax assessors department was currently borrowing one of the two vehicles designated for use by the Fannin County Land Development department and stated he did not foresee an issue with transferring that vehicle from land development to the tax assessors department provided that the vehicle was in good working condition.

Near the end of the discussion, Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson stated he did not want to give the tax assessors reason to fail and pointed out that the current Board of Assessors has a budget of nearly $300,000 more than the previous Board of Assessors from just a few years ago.

In response, Junnier told Johnson, ” With the numbers that are mandated by the state, we’re actually one appraiser, almost one appraiser, short. If you do the math, the requirements are that each appraiser can only (appraise) 2,500 to 3,500 parcels (a year). But we’ve got 27,000 (parcels) and a few more. If you do the math, that comes to up to like 7.7 appraisers. Well, we’ve got nine, two of which do personal property, so that leaves us seven to do real property.”

Then, Junnier clarified that the Board of Assessors is not asking for another employee but rather for dependable equipment to perform field appraisals.

To this, Johnson replied, “Cars have been an issue in this office almost since I’ve sat here (as post commissioner) … I don’t want tax assessors driving new vehicles. I don’t want them going to homes, driving nicer vehicles than those people paying taxes drive.”

Following this, Helton stated the 2017 budget for Gilmer County’s tax assessors department, which Helton pointed out is under a state consent order, stood at $812,000 and Junnier responded by describing that county’s department as “clowns.” Helton also explained Pickens County’s tax assessors’ budget was $578,000 and Union’s was $318,000. The chairman further noted that the 2017 Fannin tax assessors budget was nearly $1,020,000.

“So they can’t all be ‘clowns,'” Helton said, referring to the surrounding counties’ tax assessors departments. “Why would this Board of Commissioners be attacked (by) saying that we’re cutting you and draining you when we’ve actually approved $54,000 more than you’ve spent last year? … We don’t need an antagonistic relationship with the tax assessors. We need realism.”

After Junnier told Helton the only budget cut he had mentioned was the proposed funds for an additional vehicle, the discussion again returned to resolving the Board of Assessors vehicle situation. As a board, Helton, Johnson and Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee agreed they were collectively not if favor of purchasing a new vehicle for the assessors. For a tentative plan, the board agreed to transfer the aforementioned land development vehicle to the tax assessors pending a thorough inspection by Ratcliff and the public works department. As for a second vehicle, Helton then explained to Junnier that if the tax assessors could present more specific and adequate information regarding the potential purchase of a dependable, used vehicle, the Board of Commissioners could make a decision at its next meeting on Feb. 13.

“Let’s get this vehicle situation straightened out because I, for one, am sick of hearing about it,” Johnson added.

When Junnier asked about the possibility of adding a seventh vehicle to fleet at a later date, Johnson stated, “I’m for two vehicles total (and) never hear about it again.”

 

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Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

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