Budget: Fiscal Year 2017 Financial Statements Audit

Community, News

The city of Blue Ridge audit has been reviewed by Welch, Walker & Associates and they found no issues or changes needed to be made in the report. This information is summed up from December 31, 2017. The audit was finished in June of 2018 and has been approved with no changes.

The auditors are looking at items like capital projects, funding, big downtown projects, and new water rates. The auditors judge the financial reports based on a three-tier system: the highest level is 3) Material Weakness (most serious issues), 2) Significant Deficiencies and the lowest level is 1) Management Comments—these aren’t even shared in the report as they are minute.

Findings found in the Blue Ridge financial report that are tested. There were three Significant Deficiencies findings within the Blue Ridge audit.

2015-01: “Lack of segregation of duties” and this is a very common finding in a ‘small-town’ community.  This just means that there’s only one person working in a position where mistakes can be made and there’s no additional person to go back and check over reports, data entry, etc.

2015-02: “Lack of contract for revenue transactions” a few years ago it was spotted that the franchise tax agreement between the tri-state EMC and the city of Blue Ridge is outdated and it’s not been renewed officially on paper. There are a few things that need to be updated within the contract and it needs to be signed by Tri-State EMC. This has been addressed and is something the city of Blue Ridge has been working on.

2017-01: “Rates were not calculating properly in the software” this is a new finding but has already been addressed and fixed. For the new water bills in 2017, the rates were not calculating correctly in the software but was fixed in May of 2018 while they were going over the audit. Since the amount of money was ‘material’ it needed to go in the report. The ‘material’ amount was 32,110.00 from 2017 and 12,850.00 from January-May of 2018.

The 2017-01 error was the city’s software error and will not be charged to the citizens of Blue Ridge.

Budget: Fiscal Year 2017 Financial Statements Audit

Downtown Blue Ridge, News

The city of Blue Ridge audit has been reviewed by Welch, Walker & Associates and they found no issues or changes needed to be made in the report. This information is summed up from December 31, 2017. The audit was finished in June of 2018 and has been approved with no changes.

The auditors are looking at items like capital projects, funding, big downtown projects, and new water rates. The auditors judge the financial reports based on a three-tier system: the highest level is 3) Material Weakness (most serious issues), 2) Significant Deficiencies and the lowest level is 1) Management Comments—these aren’t even shared in the report as they are minute.

Findings found in the Blue Ridge financial report that are tested. There were three Significant Deficiencies findings within the Blue Ridge audit.

2015-01: “Lack of segregation of duties” and this is a very common finding in a ‘small-town’ community. This just means that there’s only one person working in a position where mistakes can be made and there’s no additional person to go back and check over reports, data entry, etc.

2015-02: “Lack of contract for revenue transactions” a few years ago it was spotted that the franchise tax agreement between the tri-state EMC and the city of Blue Ridge is outdated and it’s not been renewed officially on paper. There are a few things that need to be updated within the contract and it needs to be signed by Tri-State EMC. This has been addressed and is something the city of Blue Ridge has been working on.

2017-01: “Rates were not calculating properly in the software” this is a new finding but has already been addressed and fixed. For the new water bills in 2017, the rates were not calculating correctly in the software but was fixed in May of 2018 while they were going over the audit. Since the amount of money was ‘material’ it needed to go in the report. The ‘material’ amount was 32,110.00 from 2017 and 12,850.00 from January-May of 2018.

The 2017-01 error was the city’s software error and will not be charged to the citizens of Blue Ridge.

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.

 

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

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Tax Assessors question county accounting practices

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – A misunderstanding of county accounting practices and a misuse of terminology had the Board of Commissioners (BOC) questioning whether the Board of Assessors were keeping two sets of books.

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran spoke at the June 12 Board of Commissioners meeting about a line item in the Tax Assessors budget that she felt was an error.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Tax Assessors, Board of Assessors, Chief Appraiser, Dawn Cochran, Troy Junnier, Budget, Line Item, Maps, Aerials, GMASS, Georgia Mass Appraisals and Services

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran questions to the BOC on why her numbers do not match the county’s official accounting records.

The line item in question concerns the purchase of new aerial maps for Fannin County. According to an agreement made last year, the Tax Assessors Department would pay for the mapping upfront, but other departments who would benefit from use of the maps would reimburse the county for their portion of the overall price.

“We started at $24,000,” Cochran said explaining the line item, “We paid $8,000 out to QPublic. We paid $22,000 to EagleView which is for the maps. We paid $1,000 for LiDAR (Light Detection and Radar) and that put us a balance of negative $7,000.”

Cochran stated that the revenue to date for her department was $7,508.13 and that invoices had been sent out to other departments for their share in the mapping costs for a total of $12,513.35.

“The current balance that should be in the line item for maps and aerials is $13,021.68,” Cochran concluded.

Cochran approached the BOC because the department still has expenditures for the year that would need to come from that line item and worried that already showing a negative balance would reflect badly on continued spending.

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton explained that crediting back revenue to a department is not how the county’s accounting practices work. Helton stated that the way the county keeps records of its expenditures and revenues is set by the county’s auditors, Rushton and Associates.

According to Helton, revenues from any department are put back into the county’s general fund. He cited the Tax Commissioners office as an example of why this is the practice. Helton stated that if revenues were credited back to a department, such as the Tax Commissioners, it would in a sense give the department unlimited spending abilities.

“They tell us that you don’t offset expenses with revenue,” Helton said explaining the auditors recommendations. “You just don’t do that.”

Helton went further to ask if Cochran had ever invited Fannin County’s Chief Financial Officer Robin Gazaway to a Board of Assessor’s meeting to explain this practice. Cochran replied that she had not, but that she had been in contact with Gazaway via email and that all board members were copied to the exchange.

Cochran did not back down from her claim saying that it is important to keep accurate numbers from the top down, adding “Our number’s don’t match up with Ms. Gazaway’s numbers.”

Helton questioned Cochran’s accounting background and why she felt that her knowledge was correct over the county’s hired CFO.

Cochran stated that her board was upset over this “false negative” and stated, “It’s really hard to try to keep two sets of books.”

This statement immediately caught the attention of the commissioners with Helton asking Cochran to clarify and if she had made both sets of books available to the county’s CFO Gazaway.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Tax Assessors, Board of Assessors, Chief Appraiser, Dawn Cochran, Troy Junnier, Budget, Line Item, Maps, Aerials, GMASS, Georgia Mass Appraisals and Services

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson would like to see clearer lines of communication be established between departments and the Board of Commissioners.

Cochran replied that she does keep two sets of books and had made them available. Gazaway, however, stated that she had never seen the second set of books.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson questioned, “Your board is upset. Which set of books are they upset over?”

Later, Board of Assessors board member Troy Junnier would clarify Cochran’s statements, “Dawn brings up a spreadsheet. It’s not a separate set of books or anything like that.”

Junnier also stood behind Cochran’s questioning, “It looks bad on our department because we’re showing a negative line item when we’re really not.”

Helton explained that the negative line item would be amended at the end of the year budget review and that all of this could have been explained by Gazaway at one of the Board of Assessors meetings had she been invited to a meeting to discuss.

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee pointed out that the BOC is more concerned with a department’s overall budget, “You’re concerned over a line item and your overall budget is right where it should be.”

“I understand why,” Johnson expanded on government accounting,”and if we all three (commissioners) understand why, you don’t have a problem because at the end of the year, as was said earlier, we’re going to vote to amend the budget, if you are over budget.”

Johnson added that there needs to more face to face interaction with the BOC and the departments when issues arise. Johnson’s reasoning is that interacting face to face and in public meetings would help to eliminate miscommunication and misinformation being spread through media outlets.

“Stop the emailing. If there is a problem come to a meeting. If there is a problem, handle it at your meetings,” Johnson said to Cochran expressing his frustration with the current lines of communication. “I for one am sick of friction between the Board of Assessors and the Board of Commissioners. I’m tired of reading stuff in the papers before you even come here.”

“Before your accuse the county and the Board of Commissioners of essentially not knowing what they’re doing, you might ought to come here first,” Johnson added.

Cochran replied to Johnson saying, “I can’t help how the media takes things and what they do with it.”

“It seems like there is an effort to discredit this board and our CFO,” Helton expressed his feelings on the matter. “It needs to stop. We are doing things accurately.”

Junnier replied to the BOC, “We didn’t come to try to make it seem like we were trying to discredit anybody.”

“I was concerned that it (negative line item) would come back not only just the department head or the department itself, but also on the assessors board,” Junnier added.

In the end Junnier thanked the BOC for fully explaining the accounting practices of the county, and for addressing the negative line item in the Board of Assessor’s budget.

After Junnier and Cochran took their seats, Chairman Helton spoke with the commissioners about a possible way to lower the budget of the Tax Assessors department.

“You know I’ve expressed a concern for sometime about our budget in our Tax Assessors department,” Helton said proposing an alternative way to structure the department, “and I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at the other counties. There’s some counties out there and their budget is just a fraction of ours.”

Helton presented the board with a 3 year contract proposed by independent appraisal company Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS). In this contract, GMASS offers to appraise a third of the counties parcels each year for three years.

The cost of this outsourcing would be approximately $223,000 for the first two years and $338,000 for the final year. The total of this proposal would be $784,000 over three years.

Johnson pointed out that the total in the proposal for three years of service is less than the current budget of the Tax Assessors department for a single year.

“I’m for anything that saves money,” Johnson said addressing the current money being spent by the county in this area. ” I know I asked two or three years ago if our money would ever come back down and I was told no. After we came back into compliance, that it would never go back down.”

Helton clarified that he was not advocating to completely replace the tax assessors department: “You always need to have some local involvement and people there.”

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran did confirm that her department already outsources rural parcels and had planned on asking for help with approximately 13,000 parcels, a little under half the county’s total parcels, in 2019.

The BOC agreed to look over the possibility of outsourcing appraisals and would address their findings and concerns at a later date.

 

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

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Cochran concerned over maps and aerials budget line item

News

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

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.

UNG gets state funds for new campus

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – In a recent interview on FYNTV, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston made an announcement regarding the University of North Georgia’s (UNG) Blue Ridge campus.

Ralston confirmed in the interview that the state has set $5.5 million into a line item to establish a new standalone “brick and mortar” building for the university. The budgeted funds are set for construction only, meaning that the university will be responsible for locating and acquiring a spot suitable for the new campus. Once the college purchases the location, they can utilize the state funds for their new building to expand into that new home in Fannin County.

As such, the location of this facility is yet to be determined. According to Campus Director of Blue Ridge for UNG, Sandy Ott, she hopes to begin construction as soon as possible. Ott spoke with FetchYourNews (FYN) about the fund allocation saying, “We are thrilled with the opportunity to expand the Blue Ridge campus. We are so excited for the opportunities for the students in our region. This is going to have an impact, truly.”

Ott noted some of the major capabilities that a standalone campus will allow including expanded course offerings, lab spaces for sciences and core classes, as well as development space to cater to the region’s specific needs. While college officials are still searching for the best location at this time, Ott confirmed that they are still very early in the process and uncertain if the new standalone campus will see them completely leaving their current location just off of 515 at 83 Dunbarton Farm Road.

UNG has been at that location since 2015, offering opportunities such as dual-enrollment courses for high school students, a full-time program for first-time freshmen, courses for adult learners getting started or returning to college, and continued education programs.

With the passing of the state’s budget, this is now set for UNG to utilize when available. Ott assures FYN they are moving quickly to take advantage of the funds to increase their services as soon as possible for students. See more by checking out the announcement at 14 minutes into FYNTV’s video below.

 

 

Author

Fannin County Board of Education restructures for 2018

Education, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Education (BOE) began 2018 by restructuring their board. This restructuring took place publicly at their Jan. 11 meeting.

An annual restructuring is in accordance with the BOE’s charter which states: “The Board of Education shall elect by majority vote at the first regular meeting of the calendar year a chairperson and vice-chairperson.”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County Board of Education, Superintendent, Chairman, Vice Chairman, Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Bobby Bearden, Lewis DeWeese, Terry Bramlett, Chad Galloway, Steve Stanley, Heather Finely, Director of Instructional Technology, Budget, SPLOST

New Chairman of the Board of Education Lewis DeWeese.

The now former Chairman Bobby Bearden opened up the restructuring by saying, “Mr. Superintendent, I would like to recommend Mr. DeWeese as the chair.”
Bearden then made the motion for Lewis DeWeese to step in as chairman of the BOE, with board member Steve Stanley seconding the motion. The board voted unanimously for this change, with DeWeese refraining from voting.

Stanley then opened the floor to the selection of vice chairman, “Mr. Chairman, I would like to place a nomination for Mr. Chad Galloway.”

Stanley then made the motion for Chad Galloway to step in as vice chairman of the BOE, and fellow board member Terry Bramlett seconded this motion. Galloway abstained from voting, but was unanimously voted in by other members of the board.

The BOE discussed their meeting schedule and voted to keep the schedule the same for the 2018 calendar year.

“So for the public,” Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney explained, “this means that we will continue as is for this year, which is all regular meetings for the Fannin County Board of Education will be held on the second Thursday of each month.”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County Board of Education, Superintendent, Chairman, Vice Chairman, Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Bobby Bearden, Lewis DeWeese, Terry Bramlett, Chad Galloway, Steve Stanley, Heather Finely, Director of Instructional Technology, Budget, SPLOST

New Vice Chairman of the Board of Education Chad Galloway.

Gwatney added, “Monthly work sessions will be held on the Tuesday prior to each regularly scheduled board meeting at 8 a.m., and these meetings will be held here at this office in Blue Ridge. All meetings are open to the public.”

The newly arranged board then got straight to business reviewing the latest financial report for the Fannin County School System. The report showed the latest information as of Nov. 30, 2017, these numbers account for 41.66 percent of the annual 2017-2018 budget.

“Local revenues are at 22 percent ($4,037,844.60) versus 20 percent for this time last year. Total revenues are at 30 percent ($10,021,377.90) versus 29 percent this time last year, and total expenditures are currently at 40 percent ($13,589,826.95) versus 41 percent this time last year,” Gwatney pointed out.

Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds collected for November 2017 totaled $466,740.32.

“This is a healthy financial report,” Gwatney concluded.

Heather Finely, director of Instructional Technology, was present at the board meeting to present the public with the highlights of how the Fannin County School System is staying up-to-date with the ever changing world of technology.

Finely stated that she and her team are currently working on a three-year plan on how to approach technology advancements and how these advancements would best be utilized in Fannin County schools.

A major focus of this three-year plan is the use of WiFi technology in education. In a student survey conducted at the schools, 84 percent of students reported to have working Internet at their home, and 76 percent felt that they could do homework that requires Internet access. Only 11 percent of the students who responded said that they have no way to complete homework that requires Internet access.

Fannin County School System has been working to aid the students without any Internet access. Currently, five buses used by the county to transport students are equipped with WiFi capabilities.

Internet access in the schools is improving as well. “The state provides us with 750 mbs of Internet service. We purchase an additional 250 from TDS,” Finely explained of the Internet speed.

There are currently 108 WiFi access points in instructional areas throughout the schools. Finely hopes to up the number of WiFi access points in the schools, citing that the schools having cinder block walls slows the connections in some areas.

Finely aims to have tablets for every student to be able to use while in school: “We are working towards a one-to-one with Chromebooks.”

There are 1,749 mobile tablets currently available for students and teachers to use while at school. Finely pointed out that the school would also like to offer tablets for students to be able to take home for use. A grant has been applied for that would help to reach this goal.

“Right now, students in AP (advanced placement) take one home to use,” Finely spoke of the current use of mobile tablets.

The Fannin County Board of Education will hold their next regular meeting on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018.

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Tax assessor vehicle situation brought before commissioners

News

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.

FetchYourNews.com - Dedicated to serve the needs of the community. Provide a source of real news-Dependable Information-Central to the growth and success of our Communities. Strive to encourage, uplift, warn, entertain, & enlighten our readers/viewers- Honest-Reliable-Informative.

News - Videos - TV - Marketing - Website Design - Commercial Production - Consultation

Search

FetchYourNews.com - Citizen Journalists - A place to share “Your” work. Send us “Your” information or tips - 706.276.NEWs (6397) 706.889.9700 chief@FetchYourNews.com

Back to Top