Cochran concerned over maps and aerials budget line item

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran expressed concern to the Fannin County Board of Assessors over the maps and aerials line item of the assessors budget at the board’s June 7 meeting.

Currently, the line item shows an over-budget amount of $7,524.11 due to an $8,000 payment to qPublic.net, the department’s public access tax records website, and a $23,524.11 amount paid for this year’s update of the countywide aerial photography mapping. The budget appropriation this year for maps and aerials is $24,000.

The mapping update was completed earlier this year using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology, which produces high-resolution 3D imaging by using laser returns reflected from the earth’s surface back to a GPS-monitored aircraft.

Last year, prior to the approval of the mapping project, several county departments that will utilize the mapping technology as well as the municipalities of Blue Ridge, McCaysville and Morganton and utility entities all agreed to equally share the cost of the mapping and reimburse the assessors department upon completion of the project.

At Thursday’s meeting, Cochran explained while all of the county departments and outside entities have sent their reimbursement payments to the county, the reimbursement amount, which totals over $19,000.00, has yet to be credited to the assessors budget, leaving the aforementioned over-budget amount on paper. Once credited back to the assessors’ budget, an amount of approximately $12,000 would still remain in the maps and aerials line item, according to Cochran.

“I feel like we owe it to the tax payers to not be out of line, not be in the negative,” Cochran told the Board of Assessors.

She also said there would be additional expenditures throughout the rest of the year that would need to be deducted from the maps and aerials line item.

Also, Cochran stated the assessors were scheduled to be on the agenda at the next Board of Commissioners meeting June 12 to speak with the commissioners about the issue.

“I understand that there’s more (county) departments that are having kind of the same issue. It’s not just this department,” Assessor Troy Junnier said. “So it might be something that Robin (Gazaway, county finance director) is doing that – I don’t know – might makes things easier for her to track, but if that’s the case, it needs to be put to all the department heads that ‘This is what we’re doing and this is how it’s going to work.’ But then everything needs to flow correctly anyway.”

Referring to the Board of Commissioners, Cochran added, “They can make these things disappear at the end of the year at audit, but you’re at one person’s mercy that that get’s done. And so, I don’t feel comfortable with that, so I’ve kept you all a running total of what you’ve really spent versus haven’t. It’s been really time-consuming trying to keep both books, and the longer we do this, the more out-of-whack this is going to get.”

Cochran also shared with the assessors the results of the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts 2017 sales ratio study. The report studied a total of 322 samples from the county.

According to the study, the overall ratio for Fannin County stood at 38.36. This falls within the 36.00-to-44.00 range that is mandated by the Georgia Department of Revenue.

However, Cochran did note that the county’s coefficient of dispersion (COD) for residential property was high. The COD measures the uniformity within a classification or type of property.

The residential COD, according to the study, was 18.21 for 2017. Cochran explained this number should be 15.00 or less for residential property. For agricultural, commercial, and industrial, the COD was 18.17, 18.16 and 18.16, respectively, all of which fall in line with the state-mandated number of 20.00 or less.

“So, what the state will do, is they’ll send us a letter out once they get this audit, which is turned over to them. They’ll send a letter saying, ‘You need to take a look at your COD on the residential level. You have three years to look at this and go from there,’” Cochran told the assessors. “So, COD is what I was telling you all that, with rural land getting a little out of line, I knew this was probably heading that direction. There is evidence that rural land (revaluations) must be done next year.”

Despite the trouble with the residential COD, Cochran was optimistic of study. “I feel good about it … under the circumstances and the sheer number of sales that we’ve had,” Cochran said.

Cochran also presented the assessors with a consolidation value sheet for 2018, which essentially categorizes the parcel count, acreage and 40 percent value of the entire county property tax digest for the year. According to the information, the total gross taxable value for the county in 2018 stands at $1,685,565,308.

The chief appraiser told the assessors the digest increased by $42,442,741 over last year.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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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.

Doss offers legal opinions at Board of Assessors meeting

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – County Attorney Lynn Doss presented the Fannin County Board of Assessors with two opinions at the assessors’ May 4 meeting.

First, Doss stated, according to state law, recreational vehicles, pull-behind trailers or similar vehicles, which have a license plate, do not qualify as a permanent residence and therefore cannot receive a homestead exemption.

Citing clauses from the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.) § 48-5-40, Doss’s opinion stated, “‘Homestead’ means the real property owned by and in possession of the applicant on January 1 of the taxable year … The term ‘homestead’ includes the following qualifications: the actual permanent place of residence of an individual who is the applicant and which constitutes the home of the family; (and) where the building is occupied primarily as a dwelling.”

“A mobile home is a building. A tent is a fabric covering, at least in my mind. An RV is a motor vehicle,” Doss presented in her opinion.

After Assessor Anthony Holloway asked Doss about the prospect of tiny homes qualifying for homesteads, the county attorney stated tiny homes would qualify if deemed a permanent residence.

Next, Doss addressed whether the Board of Assessors can legally decrease the value of a property once there has been a value assigned pursuant to an appeal.

According to Doss, O.C.G.A § 48-5-299 (c) would allow the board to decrease the valuation of a property “if market sales reveal that there has been a ‘substantial’ decrease in the current fair market value, then there is no prohibition against lowering the valuation.”

The board approved Doss’ opinions unanimously.

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran presented a departmental budget review to address two overages in the maps and aerial line item and the capital outlay equipment line item.

The maps and aerial line item is budgeted for $24,000 for the 2018 fiscal year and currently stands at $30,524.41 as of April 16. Cochran explained this year’s aerial Picometry re-mapping project accounts for $22,524.11 of the line item while an $8,000 payment to Q Public accounts for the remaining balance. According to Cochran, the Board of Assessors department will receive reimbursement payments totaling $19,693.97 from other county departments, municipalities within the county, and businesses that signed an agreement last year to assist with the financing of the project in exchange for access to the updated maps. Taking the reimbursements into account, the department still has $12,169.86 in maps and aerials line item.

As for the capital outlay equipment line item, which was originally budgeted at $15,000 and currently stands at $40,000, Cochran stated the purchase of two fleet vehicles  for the assessors department at $20,000 each accounts for the overage. The Board of Commissioners approved the two expenditures at their Feb. 13 meeting.

Overall, the Board of Assessors budget for fiscal year 2018 is $848,265.00 and actual expenditures are $230,322.65 as of April 16.

Cochran also presented the assessors with a summary of the 2017 revaluation ratios. The overall fair market and land market median ratio is 0.3879. The state requires the median ratio to fall between 0.36 and 0.44. The coefficient of dispersion (COD) ratio this year is 0.1409. Cochran explained the COD measures uniformity within a classification or type of property, and the county ratio is in line with state requirements, which calls for this ratio to fall below 0.15. Also, the prime related differential (PRD) for the county is 1.0549, which Cochran said was also in line with state guidelines.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

 

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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.

Assessors approve state values for conservation use, forest land protection

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – At the Thursday, April 5, Fannin County Board of Assessors meeting, the board approved the state values for conservation use and forest land protection acreage.

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran stated the state values for conservation use acreage ranged between $696 and $1,154 an acre and for forest land protection acreage ranged between $580 and $1,154 an acre.

Cochran also explained the values are set annually by the state, and acreage is subdivided into various classifications depending on soil productivity of crop or pasture lands for conservation use and of timber lands for forest land protection. After board member Anthony Holloway asked Cochran of the frequency of change in values, the chief appraiser stated the values do not increase in any given year more than 3 percent.

The state values were approved by the board unanimously with board members Janie Bearden, Troy Junnier and Holloway being present for the meeting and board members Mark Henson and Angelina Powell being absent.

For the second straight meeting, a number of appraisers presented land schedule adjustments for subdivisions that saw sales in 2017. During this portion of the meeting, Cochran explained that the department had been making efforts in the last few years to adjust water frontage appraisals based on sales.

“We started with the big bodies of water and now we’re coming down to the ones that obviously the sales influence (the land value),” Cochran stated.

At the meeting, several revaluations were approved for subdivisions along Fightingtown Creek, Hemptown Creek and the Toccoa River as well as other waterways.

Near the end of the meeting, Cochran presented the board members with three spiral-bound binders documenting the total number of revaluations throughout the county for the years 2015 through 2017. The binders each doubled in size from the previous year.

Fannin County Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran presented these binders documenting revaluations for the county for the past three years to the Board of Assessors at its April 5 meeting.

“Our county is busting at the seams with sales, compared to Gilmer County, and growth in the building permits,” Cochran explained of the visible differences between the years in terms of revaluations. “So, not only did (appraisers) reappraise the land, but they have to go out and measure those houses, those porches, those decks, those garages, all of that.

“The nice thing about this is that when these (appraisers) get ready to go to the BOE (Board of Equalization), they’ve got it right here. The tax payer can walk in and take a look at this and when they look and they see that they are being treated the same as their neighbor and these sales are what say it, they thank you and they go on. There’s very few people that go forward and just head-on challenge you when you have the defense.”

Cochran explained to the board that the work achieved during the last few BOA meetings is crucial in terms of completing an accurate tax digest for the county.

“(Appraisers) use to come in and say, ‘I found $3 million today’ (in unaccounted property),” Cochran said. “I don’t hear it a lot anymore. It’s coming in line.”

The next Fannin County Board of Assessors meeting is scheduled for May 3 at 2 p.m. in the Tax Assessors office of the courthouse. All meetings are open to the public.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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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.

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.”

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

 

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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