BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The condition of two fleet vehicles and the potential purchase of up to two vehicles for the Fannin County Board of Assessors were discussed at the Friday, Jan. 12, assessors meeting.
Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran told board members Friday that Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton had recently asked Director of Public Works Zack Ratcliff to perform a thorough inspection of the vehicles in the tax assessors fleet. The inspections, as Cochran explained, were conducted using a points rating system, which takes into consideration the mileage of the vehicle along with issues related to the vehicle’s engine, chassis, transmission, brakes, steering and driveline.
According to Cochran, from those inspections, two vehicles out of the fleet of six received questionable ratings. A 2003 Chevrolet 1500 four-wheel drive truck with 193,384 miles was rated a 36 on a 99-point scale. Also, a 2004 Ford Explorer with 190,252 miles was rated a 43.
“Anything less than a 40 is something that really needs to be replaced,” Cochran stated to the board in a paraphrase of Ratcliff’s explanation of the ratings to her previously.
Explaining some of issues with the two vehicles, Cochran stated the Chevrolet truck was leaking motor oil and transmission fluid, and after the recent inspection, the rear end of the truck had “locked down” making it inoperable. Cochran also said early estimates projected the cost to repair the truck to be around $1,000. As for the Ford Explorer, Cochran explained that inspections determined the sub-frame of this vehicle to be badly rusted, lending itself to potential safety hazards in the event of a side impact.
“That’s the county’s mechanic (performing the inspection), not the Board of Assessors,” Board member Troy Junnier pointed out. “The county mechanic telling you it’s unsafe – I wouldn’t let anyone drive it.”
Cochran assured Junnier that both vehicles have remained parked and out of use. She also told the board that in her talks with Chairman Helton, the chairman told her he wanted to receive reports of the inspections from Ratcliff and invited the Board of Assessors to present the department’s vehicle situation at the next Board of Commissioners meeting Jan. 23.
“(Helton) wants the Board of Assessors to get together before (Jan. 23) … and decide how we want to move forward,” Cochran said. “Then, he wants the Board of Assessors to present that (decision) ahead of time, in some sort of writing, for (the commissioners) to look at it, and then it will come up on the agenda on the 23rd.”
The board weighed repair options versus the purchase of two new vehicles or dependable used vehicles. Among the many ideas discussed was the potential purchase of two new hard-top four-wheel drive Jeep Wranglers. Board member Anthony Holloway also suggested the possibility of both presenting the commissioners with a request to purchase two vehicles while also repairing the Chevrolet truck and using the truck as a backup vehicle, if the safety of the truck could be assured. Throughout the discussion, Board of Assessors Chairman Lane Bishop urged the board to come to a definite agreement on the situation.
“Let’s not forget … we’ve still got these 10,000 parcels (to be appraised),” Bishop said adamantly. “We’ve got to get that done.”
Ultimately, it was decided that Cochran would speak with Ratcliff about the possibility and cost of repairing the Chevrolet truck, study prices and options available for two new Jeep Wranglers as well as other new or used vehicles and report the findings back to the Board of Assessors in order to draft a presentation to offer to the Board of Commissioners ahead of the Jan. 23 meeting.
The board also adopted a locked gate/access denied policy for field appraisers. Last month, Cochran presented the board with a draft of the policy, and a decision was made to forward the policy to County Attorney Lynn Doss for review. At Friday’s meeting, Cochran explained Doss had reviewed the policy and made a few grammatical changes to the policy. Following this, the policy was officially adopted by the board.
The new policy has four primary steps. Upon first visit to a property, a door knocker complete with date, appraiser and reason for the visit will be placed at the gate of the parcel. A time-stamped photo of the knocker will also be taken and filed in the property account in the Board of Assessors system. After that, a phone call to the named owner of the property will be made, if possible. If no contact can be made at that point, a certified letter will be mailed to the property owner, as reflected in the Fannin County Tax Assessors’ records, again requesting access. Finally, if the department still does not receive a response, the assessors will utilize any information, such as aerial photography, building and/or septic permits and real estate ads and/or listings, to estimate a value for all structures on the property.
Cochran addressed the upcoming 2018 timber valuation with the board and stated that 12 letters would be sent to property owners with significant acreage containing timber with the potential to be cut and sold.
“Any (parcel) 20 acres or over that took place in a sale in 2017, the state says that if there’s marketable timber that (the tax assessors) need to take into consideration – timber is not valued until it is cut and sold – we back this value out,” Cochran explained. “If a 100-acre tract sold for $200,000 and our timber (evaluator) says there’s $5,000 worth of timber, we back it out (of the property assessment).”
Last year, as Cochran stated, the tax assessors office utilized Allen Baker, a registered forester with Allen Forest Management, to value such tracts of land at a cost of $20 an hour to the county, which came to a total cost of $2,000 for 100 hours of service. Cochran further stated Fannin County received the most accurate timber valuation in the state of Georgia last year after the county’s digest review from the state. The board approved the use of Baker again for 2018 at the same rate as last year and approved the list of letters to be sent to the 12 applicable property owners notifying them of the upcoming valuation.
The board also approved the state values for public utilities. According to Cochran, the state of Georgia sets the value of public utilities such as electric, gas and phone companies.
Cochran also presented the board with the 2018 tax digest schedule and discussed several important dates and deadlines for Fannin County tax payers.