Blue Ridge, Ga. – Talks surrounding the 2019 Tax Assessor budget continued at Tuesday evening’s Board of Commissioner (BOC) meeting, and for the time being a compromise was met between the BOC and the Board of Assessors (BOA).
A tentative budget of $633,493 was passed for the Tax Assessors department in Dec. of 2018. This budget included $223,000 for a contract with Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS) to help conduct appraisals in Fannin County and to remain in compliance with the state of Georgia.
After budget cuts within the department, Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran presented a counter-proposal to the BOC in the amount of $683,209.22, roughly a $50,000 difference from the already approved budget.
The newly requested budget from Cochran only set aside $28,800 for services provided by GMASS. This amount includes two contracts in which the BOA would like to enter with GMASS.
The first of these contracts would be for rural land revaluation. “The total for that is approximately $18,300,” Cochran said explaining the breakdown of the two contracts, “and the reason that we have to have an approximate is the timber land reviews is based off of sales.”
The second contract in the amount of $10,500 would be for mapping. Recently, the BOA voted to restructure the GIS (Geographic Information System) department, in an attempt to decrease the overall budget. This move resulted in the loss of an employee.
All three county commissioners voted in favor of entering into these two contracts with GMASS.
Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton who previously stated, “I was elected to look after the taxpayers dollars and I’m not going to back off of challenging any department if I feel like we’ve got ways to improve and bring greater value to the tax paying citizens of the county. They deserve that and that’s what they’re going to get,” held true to his word.
Helton noted that the difference between the initial monies set aside for GMASS assistance and the monies needed for the two contracts would be approximately $194,200. He recommended moving that difference to the departments salaries and benefits without increasing the budget.
“We could cut the budget further,” Helton spoke of voting to amend certain line items, “or we could reapply that to other line items, which I would make the assumption that you would want to apply that back to employee benefits, salaries and social security.”
Cochran and newly appointed BOA chairman Troy Junnier argued that this amount would not be enough to cover all salaries and that further employees would have to be cut.
“We’re down from 15 to 11,” Cochran stated of the current number of employees, and went further to say that without the extra $50,000 requested two to three employees could lose employment.
“What we see here is a trend that it is improving,” speaking of the Tax Assessor’s proposed budget, Post 2 Commissioner Glenn Patterson added, “Budget cuts are always difficult and we can see there that they are trying.You can look at Ms. Cochran’s budget and she’s not spent all of her budget.”
Patterson, showing favor of the amendment, spoke to his fellow commissioners and members of the BOA: “I would like for us to have a better partnership and to have a good working relationship. I feel like in supporting this amendment that it would boost the spirits and morale showing them some support.”
“I’m glad to see some of these numbers coming down,” Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson addressed Cochran and Junnier, “By all of us having a dialogue for the first time in my six years of being here, people on different sides of the coin, at this point, the Tax Assessors Board and the Board of Commissioners, at this point, have somehow or another come up with $200,000 worth of savings in a two month period.”
“I feel like we can get the job done,” Cochran made one last case for the requested amendment, “The $50,000 lies within salaries, so you have employees right now that have been up in the air on whether or not they are going to have their jobs from November to December to January, and it’s really hard to hold a group and keep a team pushing forward under the circumstances.”
After brief discussion Helton reiterated his stance, “Anyway you look at it, it’s (Tax Assessor budget) absolutely the highest than any of the other counties, and I feel very strongly that we’ve got to get that back and I’m prepared to do that.”
Patterson made a motion to approve the amended budget giving the Tax Assessors office the requested $683,209.22. This motion, however, failed due to a lack of a second.
To this, Johnson presented a compromise of approving an extra $25,000 for the budget to meet halfway: “My motion would be that, much to my disagreement with it, I would meet halfway in between, and with that we would relook at it in six months at least.”
“You’re not getting exactly what you want and I’m not getting exactly what I want, but we are meeting in the middle,” Johnson spoke of the compromise. “We’re doing our jobs.”
Johnson’s motion to meet halfway with a total budget of $658,493 was seconded by Patterson, and passed with a two to one vote, with Helton against the increase.
The Board of Assessors have called a meeting to be held Friday, Jan. 11 at 2 p.m.
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Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Board of Assessors (BOA) called a one-on-one meeting with Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS) to discuss the Tax Assessor’s office and the role that GMASS would potentially play in the future.
GMASS Chief Financial Officer Kristi Reese broke the ice by stating, “I feel like maybe there is some hostility between us because we don’t really know how all of this came about. We did not come into Fannin County with the intent of firing anybody or having anything of that nature done.”
Reese explained that GMASS is simply a company that can assist counties with appraisal work and in no way advocates or is responsible for the removal local office staff: “I do not want our name associated with any of that.”
Members of the BOA acknowledged that what Reese was saying was true and that they value the ongoing working relationship between GMASS and the Fannin County Tax Assessors.
“I think that the commissioners are trying to force something that they don’t truly understand every part, ” BOA board member Troy Junnier replied to Reese, “I think they are looking at just the money. They are not looking at everything that goes into that.”
Fannin County Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran added, “I personally know what it takes to run this office. The commissioners do not know what it takes to run this office. GMASS knows what it takes to do their part but does not know what it takes to do our county with our circumstances.”
The Board of Commissioners did make initial contact with GMASS requesting a bid for appraisal and maintenance services. This contact came about due to an inability for an agreement to be made regarding the budget of the Tax Assessor’s office.
Cochran stated bluntly of the move to hire GMASS, “In order for you all to come in and do your work, people would have to lose their jobs.”
Cochran explained that when Fannin County came under consent from the state of Georgia for not complying with regulations that the county opted then to fully staff the department instead of using GMASS at that time.
Now that the county is out from under the consent order Cochran added, “The timing of this is kind of a gut punch.”
Cochran acknowledged that the department has fallen a bit behind: “The Board of Assessors choose quality over quantity. So it has taken a little longer than expected.” She reasoned that the blame fell on the amount of work it took to come into compliance and the set back of her department not having enough vehicles to do this work.
“I feel like the commissioners are going to go forward with their budget cuts regardless of what we do here,” Reece stated of the direction of the BOA’s conversation. “I understand your concerns, but we don’t have control over anything at this point. We are just here to meet with you and calm some of your fears.”
Eventually the discussion veered toward what GMASS is able to provide the county. Cochran questioned GMASS of several areas including insurance, workload, and customer service.
Through this series of questions GMASS answered that they would be responsible for field appraisals and would complete one third of the county’s parcels each year keeping in compliance with state law.
Reece answered all questions leaving little doubt that GMASS is fully capable of completing their obligation as well as working side by side with the Tax Assessor’s office.
GMASS would essentially streamline the appraisal process, and Reece explained that this is because GMASS has staff to focus in specific areas. This is in contrast to the current staffing in most counties where appraisers must multitask in several areas.
Concern was expressed about customer service being provided, to which Reece replied that a GMASS representative would be happy to meet in person or discuss via phone with any taxpayer who has a question about their appraisal.
No action was taken at this meeting by the BOA regarding staffing of the office. Discussions are expected to continue at the next meeting to be held on Thursday, Dec. 13. The BOA and Board of Commissioners previously agreed to come to terms with a budget for 2019 by the end of this 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