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

News

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.

Bishop out on Board of Assessors, Powell to replace

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – In a called meeting of the Fannin County Board of Assessors (BOA) Tuesday, Feb. 27, to forward an appeal to Superior Court, Chairman Lane Bishop shared with the board that he would not be reappointed at the Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting, which followed later that evening. At the commissioners meeting, local business owner Angelina Powell was appointed unanimously by the commissioners to replace Bishop on the BOA following a motion from Fannin County BOC Chairman Stan Helton and a second from Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee.

According to Bishop, his term expires Feb. 28. Bishop, who served on the assessors board for over three years, took time to issue a statement to BOA members Janie Bearden and Mark Henson as well as county Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran and BOA secretary Heather Wright. BOA members Troy Junnier and Anthony Holloway were not present for the called meeting.

“I talked to Stan Helton yesterday (Feb. 26) and he is not going to reappoint me to this board. I asked him why and he said he didn’t have to explain anything to me. And I said, ‘Stan, at least give me one more year because there’s two items that I want to finish. ‘One of them is our 10,000 (parcels in the county yet to be reappraised).’ I said I want to see that that’s done. That’s been my baby all this time. He said, ‘No.’ His mind was made up … I told him he had no reason not to reappoint me. Well, he does have a reason though. He’s got several reasons that is nothing but pure backstabbing politics in Fannin County. That’s why I’m not being reappointed, and I want the tax payers to know it. And they’re going to know it … I wanted to announce it to this board. I wanted to thank you (Bearden and Henson) for being on the board … and I hope you all will continue trying to run this board honestly, honestly for the tax payers of Fannin County. It was not run that way when we first took it over and Janie (Bearden) knows it and I know it and a lot of us know this. It is now being run honest and I think we’ve got some honest people on it. There’s some politics in it, yes. I’m very much aware of the politics. There are dirty, backstabbing politics and that’s why I’m being removed … I wish I could be a little softer in my remarks, but I don’t think so because Stan (Helton) said he hoped there were no hard feelings. I told him there were some bad hard feelings and because I know why I’m being removed and it’s wrong … plain wrong. He and Larry Joe Sosebee, I hope, will answer for what they’re doing to me.”

In the public eye at least, relations have seemed somewhat strained between the Board of Assessors and Board of Commissioners for the past six months. At an all-day workshop Sept. 20, 2017, at which the commissioners met with representatives from all county departments to discuss their respective 2018 budgets, Bishop and Bearden questioned the recent appointments of Henson and Junnier and were met with a firm rebuttal from Chairman Helton. Those appointments expanded the BOA from three members to five.

In early December, just as the commissioners were finalizing all revisions to the county’s proposed 2018 budget, the BOA publicly questioned the commissioners’ recommended, and ultimately approved, 2018 budget of $848,265 for the Board of Assessors. The assessors requested budget was $977,370.

Following the budget talks, the BOA experienced mechanical troubles with two vehicles in its six-vehicle fleet in January rendering them both inoperable, and Junnier spoke on behalf of the BOA at the Jan. 29 Board of Commissioners meeting to lobby for the purchase of two replacement vehicles. During that session, Chairman Helton questioned some end-of-the-year purchases made by the tax assessors department, and Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson told Junnier that if the commissioners approved the purchases, he did not want to hear about the problems of the tax assessors’ vehicle fleet again while he was in office. Ultimately, the commissioners did approve the purchase of two 2016 Ford Escapes in the amount of $20,000 each at their Feb. 13 meeting.

In a post-meeting interview with Bishop Tuesday, the tax assessors chairman pointed to Commissioner Sosebee as the origin of contention against him from the Board of Commissioners. Bishop said in addition to the reappraisal of the 10,000 parcels, he had hoped to stay on the BOA long enough to be sure a relapse did not occur within the tax assessors department: “The main thing is that the Board (of Assessors) does not go back to the ‘good ole boy’ syndrome and start favoring some of the more wealthy people in this county.”

Bishop referred back to the period before he joined the BOA when it was alleged that several Fannin County residents received favors from within the tax assessors department by not having their tax bills recorded and added to the tax digest.

“This (department) was corrupted. It was the ‘good ole boys’ syndrome going right here in this tax office,” Bishop stated. “When we took over this office within the first two weeks or so, we added $10 million to the digest. Now where do you think that $10 million came from? It came from returns that had never been put on the digest.”

Bishop along with former BOA members Nathan Henson and Sonia Smith replaced the former BOA in May 2014 after that tax assessors board was removed entirely by the Board of Commissioners upon the recommendation of Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver due to departmental deficiencies. According to Bishop, one of the new BOA’s first moves then was to terminate two tax assessor employees in an effort to correct the deficiencies within the department.

“Well, one of those people happened to be a friend of Larry Joe Sosebee,” Bishop said, “and he’s held that against me ever since I’ve been on this board.”

As far as his relationship with Helton, Bishop said, “Stan Helton ain’t got one thing against me except what he’s been told.”

Concerning the reasoning for not reappointing Bishop, Helton, in a follow-up interview Tuesday, stated, “Well, I think I did give (Bishop) reason. Our board – me and the other two commissioners – are unanimous in that we feel that that office (tax assessors department) has gotten too big, and the budget that is there now is far in excess of our surrounding counties and it needs to go in the other direction.”

Helton pointed out the consent order from the state Department of Revenue was lifted in August of last year. “There’s no reason for that department to keep getting bigger or even be the size it is now. It’s too big,” Helton added.

The commission chairman further explained he feels the duties of the tax assessors office can still be accomplished with a smaller staff but that any future potential reductions would occur “slowly, over time.”

“We’re not talking about slashing the thing in half immediately,” Helton stated.

Helton also mentioned he felt a degree of resistance from the BOA regarding a downsizing movement and said, “I’m going to appoint someone who agrees with me.”

When asked about the BOA’s continued concern that a reduction in staff and/or budget could result in a relapse to the period leading up to state’s previous consent order on the BOA, Helton replied, “I do not accept that. Not at all. Because if people are going to do their job, that will not happen. And we will make sure, the Board of Commissioners will make sure that that does not happen … I don’t accept that attitude. I do not. And there are some real drastic things we could do.”

That “drastic” option Helton proposed, though he clarified he did not favor, would be to contract an independent company to do field appraisals and property evaluations. “We do have that option, (but) I don’t want to do that,” Helton added, saying he has always favored hiring locally.

“What I don’t accept is why our (tax assessors’) budget is 25 percent higher than what Gilmer (County’s) was, almost twice Pickens (County), and three times Union County. And we’re not talking about apples to oranges. We’re talking about counties that have similar numbers as far as properties that have to be appraised, demographics. I mean it’s too close,” Helton continued. “It’s not going to stay the biggest, most expensive budget in the four counties that surround us. It’s not going to stay that way.”

In a Wednesday morning interview, Commissioner Sosebee responded to Bishop’s claim that the lack of reappointment by the Board of Commissioners was a retaliatory tactic stemming from Sosebee. While Sosebee admitted he did have friends who worked within the tax assessors department years ago and who were terminated shortly after Bishop took office, the commissioner added, “That’s all water under the bridge.”

“I have never had any animosity toward Bishop or the BOA,” Sosebee explained. “If I did have any animosity, I would have gotten rid of Bearden.”

Instead, Bearden was reappointed to the BOA by the Board of Commissioners, as Sosebee’s personal appointment, at the Feb. 13 BOC meeting.

“This is not a personal vendetta,” Sosebee stated. “If (Bishop) feels that way, I’m sorry.”

Sosebee also stated the appointment of Powell at the BOC meeting Tuesday evening instead of the reappointment of Bishop came as a shock to him and denied influencing Helton in any way ahead of the decision.

“I never influenced Helton (on the move),” Sosebee said. “Mr. Helton is not one who is easily influenced by anyone. I had nothing to do with it.”

 

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.

Fannin assessors decide on vehicle proposals

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Assessors decided on two specific used vehicles to bring before the Board of Commissioners (BOC) for potential purchase at the next BOC meeting Tuesday, Feb. 13.

At their Jan. 23 meeting, the commissioners discussed the possibility to either transfer a vehicle from the Land Development department to the Board of Assessors as well as purchase one other used vehicle or purchase two used vehicles, if the vehicle from Land Development was deemed unsuitable for use after a thorough inspection by the county Public Works department. Though no official spending limit for the purchase of a vehicle was approved, $20,000 was a figure mentioned by BOC Chairman Stan Helton during that meeting.

In follow-up interview with Helton Monday, Feb. 5, the chairman confirmed the Land Development vehicle had been inspected since the BOC meeting, and it has been deemed unsuitable to meet the functional needs required of the assessors’ department.

Recently, two vehicles within the assessors’ six-vehicle fleet have failed and remain out of commission: a 2004 Ford Explorer with 190,252 miles and a 2003 Chevrolet 1500 four-wheel drive truck with 193,384 miles. Much of the sub-frame of the Ford Explorer is badly rusted and presents a safety issue, according to the county mechanic, and the Chevrolet truck is experiencing transmission issues causing it to be inoperable.

At the Feb. 2 assessors meeting, Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran brought several used vehicle bids before the Board of Assessors. Ultimately, the board agreed to present two 2016 Ford Escape program vehicles – one with over 35,000 miles and the other with approximately 46,000 – to the commissioners at their next meeting. The price of the 35,000-mile Escape would be $19,057.50 and the 46,000-mile Escape would be $18,357.50. Cochran further explained the original three-year or 36,000-mile warranties for the vehicles had obviously expired for one and would soon expire for the other.

Board member Troy Junnier stressed the need of having a warranty for any vehicle purchased and stated during the meeting he felt two new vehicles with full warranties could be purchased for just $2,000 more than the $20,000 figure mentioned at the BOC meeting.

“(Post 2 Commissioner) Earl (Johnson) made it clear though that he will not approve a new vehicle,” Board of Assessors Chairman Lane Bishop said, reminding the assessors of Johnson’s concern of public perception from Fannin County tax payers.

Mark Henson, current Board of Assessors member and former Fannin County Schools Superintendent, told the assessors of a similar situation during his time as superintendent when he faced public scrutiny for the purchase of a new vehicle for the schools. “I hate to say it, but I can kind of see where (the commissioners) are coming from,” Henson said.

“I don’t think we ought to fight the battle,” Bishop concurred.

Later, Cochran explained the vehicles would be purchased from Blue Ridge North Georgia Ford, but the dealership itself will have to order and buy the vehicles to resell to the county.

After further discussion, the Board of Assessors agreed for Cochran to communicate with the dealership and produce further information on the terms and prices for extended warranties on both vehicles to bring to the commissioners.

Also in the meeting, the Board of Assessors approved a $20,000 transfer from the 2017 budget line item of capital outlay equipment to operational supplies. Cochran explained that when the 2017 budget was approved, several expenditures under $5,000 were expected to be purchased from capital outlay, but after county Finance Director Robin Gazaway was hired last year, Gazaway requested for such expenditures to be purchased out of operational supplies. According to Cochran, the transfer was for audit purposes and corrected what appeared to be a $13,000 over-budget amount in the operational supplies line item.

The assessors also approved a date change for the next Board of Assessors meeting from March 2 to Thursday, March 1. The meeting will be held at 2 p.m. in the Board of Assessors office meeting room on the first floor of the Fannin County Courthouse and, as always, is 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.

Assessors staff to conduct field inspections

Press Release

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Throughout the year you may notice the Fannin County Board of Assessors appraisal staff in your neighborhood or area conducting onsite field inspections. Fannin County vehicles will be clearly marked with emblems, and staff will have picture ID’s and business cards. Feel free to question staff for the reason of their visit and ask for identification. We appreciate your cooperation with our onsite visits. As always we want to respect your privacy.

As a part of conducting field inspections due to Building Permits, Appeals, or general appraisal review, the staff will be reviewing land characteristics, improvements and taking exterior measurements. Normally, there is not a need to come inside your home or place of business, but at some time, it may be necessary in order to complete the inspection or appeal review. Should an interior inspection be needed, it will be noted on the informational door hanger by the appraiser. The tax payer can set up an appointment with the appraiser to complete the interior inspection. Should you not be at home and no interior inspection is needed, the review will still be conducted and an informational door hanger will be left along with the appraiser’s business card. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact the number on the card to speak with the assigned appraiser.

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.

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.

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