City of Blue Ridge spending comes into question

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – A large bill for the Blue Ridge City Pool and a final amendment to the City of Blue Ridge 2017 budget left new council members questioning the accountability and practices of the city when it comes to spending.

At the June Blue Ridge City Council meeting funds and lack thereof was a topic that was revisited throughout the evening. Blue Ridge Business Association President Cesar Martinez urged the council to take steps to acquire the funding needed for city improvements.

“You were all aware of the important issues facing the city, as you voiced your convictions towards better infrastructure, better parking solutions, and better bathroom facilities for our city and its visitors,” Martinez addressed the council reading from a prepared statement.

“Six months down the road and where are we?” Martinez questioned. “This city needs solutions now. Inaction is unacceptable.”

Martinez acknowledged shortfalls in trying to seek funding for these projects stating that grants could take months even years to come through.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge City Council, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Nathan Fitts, Kenneth Gaddis, Rhonda Haight, Harold Herndon, Robbie Cornelius, Blue Ridge Business Association, President, Cesar Martinez, Recreonics Inc, Spending, Budget, SPLOST, pool, paint, Downtown Development Authority

Blue Ridge Business Association President Cesar Martinez addresses the council about forming a Downtown Development Authority to help seek funding for the city.

Mayor Donna Whitener added to this that grants often have to be matched by city money.

Offering a possible solution to the lack of funding Martinez urged the council to established a Downtown Development Authority (DDA). Through a DDA the possibility of more funding opens up, funding which the city itself is ineligible to apply for.

Martinez cited that there are already 470 registered DDAs in the state of Georgia, and that the city is missing out on opportunities by not establishing a DDA of their own.

Council member Kenneth Gaddis thanked Martinez for addressing the council and questioned the city’s lack of focus on infrastructure.

“We’ve actually done about $800,000 in infrastructure this year,” Whitener responded to Gaddis, “$500,000 in one area and another 300 and something thousand.”

“We’re always spending money on infrastructure. We can’t keep up,” Whitener added.

Council member Nathan Fitts stated about funding issues, “A lot of what we were told as far as funding didn’t come through.”

Later an amendment to the city’s 2017 budget revealed that the previous council had already spent a large portion of projected revenue for 2018.

The previous council had approved for many of the city streets to be repaved in 2017, but the funding was not budgeted. To acquire the funds necessary the council then approved borrowing from the general fund and the Hotel/Motel tax account.

The general fund has now been paid back through the use of 2018 SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) collections, and the money borrowed from the Hotel/Motel account, in the amount of approximately $135,000, will not be reimbursed.

Gaddis showed surprise at this revelation: “So the previous council voted to use-”

“General fund money into your year,” Whitener quickly responded, “Into your term.”

Whitener went on to explain, “When I say we don’t have a lot of SPLOST money it’s because we’ve been paying SPLOST back from last term.”

With this revelation and the lack of funding for city projects, such as infrastructure and parking, Council member Nathan Fitts expressed his detestation when asked to approve a check in the amount of $9,608.04 for paint for the city’s pool.

According to Whitener the specialized paint is very costly, some of it being up to $263.00 for five gallons.

This invoice from Recreonics Inc. coupled with approximately $5,000 already spent on parts to fix the pool, brings the total amount well over the original $5,000 approved by the council earlier this year.

“So now we’ve spent triple,” Fitts said about the new invoice, “Did we get estimates on what paint was going to be before we bought it?”

Gaddis backed Fitts and questioned how the department got approval to spend this amount.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge City Council, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Nathan Fitts, Kenneth Gaddis, Rhonda Haight, Harold Herndon, Robbie Cornelius, Blue Ridge Business Association, President, Cesar Martinez, Recreonics Inc, Spending, Budget, SPLOST, pool, paint, Downtown Development Authority

Costly paint for the city pool led council to question if estimates were given before purchase.

Whitener simply answered, “They didn’t.”

“I think these department heads need to submit these estimates and bids ahead of time for approval,” Fitts went on.

Whitener, who agreed with this sentiment, stated of the department head, “I don’t think she realized how much paint it would take to paint the pool.”

“That’s why we get estimates,” Fitts replied explaining that there is no excuse. “That is unacceptable.”

Since the pool had already been painted the council had no choice but to approve to pay this debt.

“I don’t think we should have painted it period, but its been painted,” Whitener expressed her opinion.

Fitts added, “I think we should tell that department head, they better get out there and start marketing that pool to bring more revenue in.”

The Blue Ridge City Council will hold their next regular monthly meeting on Tue. July 10 at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

 

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Natalie Kissel

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