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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