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

 

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.

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

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.

Bearden is new assessors chairperson, Junnier vice chairman

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Assessors (BOA) took on a slightly different look Friday, March 23, at their monthly meeting.

The BOA opened the meeting by welcoming local business owner Angelina Powell to the board. At the Feb. 27 Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting, Powell was nominated by BOC Chairman Stan Helton and appointed unanimously by the BOC to succeed former BOA Chairman Lane Bishop, whose seat on the BOA expired Feb. 28.

Next, the floor was opened for nominations for chairperson of the BOA, and board member Troy Junnier nominated Janie Bearden with a second coming from board member Anthony Holloway. Bearden was approved unanimously to serve as chairperson of the BOA. Board member Mark Henson was not present at the meeting.

Near the end of the meeting, Bearden put forth the idea of electing a vice chairperson to serve on the board and nominated Junnier for this position. Junnier was approved unanimously as vice chairman. To this, Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran explained Bearden had previously consulted with County Attorney Lynn Doss about the prospect of adding a vice chair position on the board and, according to Cochran, Doss confirmed there were no legal obstacles to hinder such a move.

Former Chairman Bishop delivered on his word given at the Feb. 27 BOA called meeting to attend future tax assessors meetings as a member of the public. After sitting through a three-hour meeting, Bishop made a brief statement to the BOA in the public commentary portion of the meeting and gave a typed letter to each member of the board as well as members of the media.

“I do appreciate this board,” Bishop stated. “I really do, but you all have got an awesome job, more than you may think. I think you are beginning to see this is pretty complex and convoluted sometimes. But you all use your good common sense, and you don’t let somebody else tell you how to vote, please.”

In his letter to the board members, Bishop put forth three main petitions to the BOA:

  • “Please finish the reassessment of the remaining 10,000 parcels that has not been done. The other taxpayers are not being treated fairly if this is not done;
  • “Please do not allow this department to go back to the ‘good old boys’ state we found it in years ago; (and)
  •  “The Board of Commissioners have no authority over this department even though they do control the budget as I was reminded of many times.”

Concerning the budget, Cochran presented the board with a brief budget review for this year. Cochran stated thus far the actual BOA budget is in line but did point out a $40,000 expenditure listed under the capital outlay equipment line item. This amount is $25,000 over the $15,000 budgeted amount for this line item. According to Cochran, the amount accounts for the February purchases of two 2016 Ford Escapes at $20,000 each. Cochran said she had discussed the line item amount with county Finance Director Robin Gazaway recently.

“(Gazaway) didn’t seem to think it would be a problem. She would explain to the auditors that these are two vehicles at $20,000 a piece,” Cochran explained.

The maps and aerial line item also shows an over-budget amount, standing at $30,524.41. Only $24,000 is budgeted for maps and aerial; however, the amount covers this year’s Pictometry LiDAR mapping project of the county, and the BOA is expected to receive compensation from other county departments as well as municipalities throughout the county that will be benefiting from the mapping.

One of those county departments that participated in the Pictometry mapping project contract was the E-911 department. Cochran explained a slight adjustment to that contract needed to be amended and approved by the BOA as E-911 cannot use the format produced by the project and Pictometry will have to produce a different type of format for the E-911 department to use. The amended contract was approved unanimously.

The board also approved a $1,400 invoice from forester Baker Allen, a registered forester who was recently contracted by the BOA to complete the 2018 timber valuation. According to Cochran, Allen worked a total of 70 hours at $20 an hour during the timber valuation.

“Counties are paying thousands to have this done,” Cochran added. “(This is) saving Fannin County a lot of money.”

A $3,000 invoice for uniforms was also approved by the BOA. Cochran explained the department annually budgets $3,000 for uniforms for its employees.

The board also approved a contract with Harris Govern to print and mail the 2018 notice of assessments (NOAs) to county property owners at the rate of 52 cents per NOA. Cochran estimated this year there will be around 31,600 NOAs, which will cost the BOA approximately $16,400 for the service from Harris Govern. The tax assessors department has attempted to complete the task of printing and mailing the NOAs itself in years past, but given the cost of paper, ink and man hours, Cochran said, “This (service) is very beneficial for our county.”

The BOA approved an update from the state for Kelley Blue Book values to be uploaded into the WinGap computer-assisted appraisal program for motor vehicle data. Cochran explained this data assists the board in making decisions for vehicle appeals that come before the board from owners.

 

 

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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