BLUE RIDGE, Ga – The county financial report through May 2020 provided some good news in the era of COVID-19 economic uncertainty.
Overall, Fannin’s revenue was only off by two percent compared to 2019, and SPLOST and LOST collections were slightly ahead of last year. LOST and SPLOST went up around $50,000.
“We were really doing very well up until the mid-point of March when COVID hit, and we had to restrict a lot of tourism in the county,” Helton explained. “From mid-March until the end of April, that period was very bad on revenue, but in May, those numbers are starting to come back.”
Risk management also came in at eight percent under budget – insurance normally goes over budget due to claims.
Public works’ general fund budget was under $129,170, and new SPLOST for public works was under $950,531.
“The public works department been doing a lot of things to try and keep that capital expenditure, and SPLOST expenditure down,” said Chairman Stan Helton.
The county paid half of its debt for 2020, which left three payments before paying off the new courthouse building entirely. The recreation department was $54,534 under budget. The fire department went over because of the lease payments. Sheriff’s office had capital outlay expenses that resulted in an overage, and jail’s overage resulted from inmate medical expenses. However, the overages should go down as the year continues.
The total expenditures dropped eight percent through May 2020.
“That’s good that we are down by eight percent because when you look at the revenue, we anticipated for this year, through May, it’s off two percent – that’s not as bad as we thought it would be at this point,” explained Helton.
All departments previously received instruction to review their expenses and make necessary cuts to prevent shortfalls.
“It’s a very good sign that it’s only off by that percentage. I hope the monies continue to come in, and we stay on the line we’re on now, and hopefully, it will get a little better,” added Post One Earl Johnson.
Clerk of Superior Court Dana Chastain presented a plan to build an interior wall within her office to allow everyone to conduct business safely. The wall would be in the shape of an “L” and would protect her staff and clients from potential germs. The Clerk’s capital outlay budget would pay for the addition, and it will cost $35,377.
“The way we have always done business is it’s an open concept. explained Chastain. “We’re like a hub to do business, and if we were to shut down, banks couldn’t lend money. They couldn’t get their filings timely.”
Chastain also outlined her current plan to allow attorneys into the office on Fridays and Saturdays. She also sent her staff home on those days to keep them safe, and she would deep clean the area.
“I want the public to know that they have access to anything that’s in my office. All they have to do is request it, and like I said, we have a great staff,” said Chastain.
Another $600 received Commissioner approval to repair the rain damage in the Clerk of Superior Court’s office. Rain leaked through the window and resulted in mold growth.
Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff gained approval to bid out a road paving job for three roads. The county would use LMIG funds from GDOT and a 30 percent match from the county to pay for the work. LMIG would contribute $732,476.14, and the county would pay $219,742.84.
If Fannin doesn’t use the LMIG funds from GDOT, the money disappears, or the county could be required to pay it back.
The three roads are Galloway (3.5miles), Curtis Switch (2.2 miles), and Sugar Creek (1 mile). Curtis Switch and Sugar Creek will receive an extra foot of asphalt to widen the shoulder.
All bids must include a third-party inspector to monitor the work.
Land Lease Agreement
The commissioners accepted a land lease agreement with Verizon Wireless for the company to build a 250 ft. cell tower. The tower would increase cell service by a 3-mile radius and be located next to the public works department. Fannin collected a $500 signing bonus and $9,000 payments over five years. If renewed after five years, the amount increases by 10 percent.
Commissioners extended the UGA Extension Agent Contract for another year. Fannin pays $7,400 in employee compensation and benefits for the local extension agent.
FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – The cost of hiring detainees to keep Fannin roads clean increased unexpectedly and exponentially from the previous year.
A one-year contract for six to ten detainees from Colwell Detention Center and one detention officer rose by $10,000 from 2019 to 2020. Chairman Stan Helton discovered the increase when it became time to renew for the next year.
“The contract that is expiring is we pay for one detention officer, who supervises and oversees the work that’s being done,” explained Helton. “The payment that we have essentially pays for that employee. Last year, it was $39,000. Well the contract for this year, the sum is a big increase from $39,000 to $49,000.”
The Department of Corrections reported that the reasoning behind the increase is that the organization hadn’t updated its rates in several years. This hike in price was needed to keep up with an officer’s base salary.
“It’s kind of a hard time to get that increase during a pandemic,” stated Post Two Glenn Patterson. “They do a wonderful job. I just hate to have an increase during this time when everyone is kind of hurting.”
The new contract would go into effect in July, and the county doesn’t pay if the team can’t work.
“It’s kind of a steep increase that’s a very big increase. It should have been in an incremental deal, rather than $10,000 increase in a year, said Post One Earl Johnson. “It was a very good deal for the amount of workers we get, but when it becomes $50,000, it becomes a lot less attractive to me.”
Helton assured the board that this rate hike is occurring statewide, and several neighboring commissioners expressed dissatisfaction with the unexpected increase. According to Helton, Colwell Detention Center was unaware of the situation when he contacted them.
The chairman also broke down the costs and said the rate comes out to $2.50 an hour with the 25 percent increase.
“I still personally feel like it’s well worth it,” Helton added.
Johnson was still skeptical about rehiring the detainees because Fannin also must provide transportation, equipment, and associated expenses. He offered that maybe the county should investigate contracting the service out to have “specialized help, rather than supervised help.”
“It’s a great rate, but a lot of times that rate is cheap, but you’re not getting the best labor,” offered Johnson. “I honestly think if everyone would balk on a $10,000 increase in one year, they’d probably meet [us] halfway. That’s solely the reason why I’m not in favor of it.”
“I understand what Commissioner Johnson is saying, but until we look into further contracting that out, prices and things like that. I’d like to have them back,” conceded Patterson. “I feel like it would be a good investment at this time until we found something that would replace what they do.”
Fannin County finally had an opportunity to hire detainees last year once a team became available.
“They’ve been very helpful, very effective with trash pickup, and helping with trimming, weeding areas around the county roadways. Particularly guardrails, we’ve had some places where we had blockages of culverts. These guys have been very effective,” Helton stated.
However, the detainee crew stopped working in March because of COVID-19 pandemic and might not be back on the job until September.
“I spent the first three years trying to get a crew available to us,” Helton explained. “I have to say that I’ve been pleased with what we’ve gotten from this investment with them.”
Helton and Patterson voted in favor of approving the service for another year and Johnson voted against.
In other financial business, the commissioners also approved a bid from J&D Construction for repairs to the Mineral Bluff fire station for $6,500. The building suffered wind damage from the storms in April.
ACCG Insurance Program’s compensation fund issued a $32,958 for the county’s share a cash return for qualifying members. It’s an additional compensation from what Fannin received in the past.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County School System (FCSS) is prepared to “weather the storm” as expectations of State Budget cuts loom over next year’s financials.
“We get a great deal of insight into how we can budget from the legislature and so we’re waiting on that information,” FCSS Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney addressed the district’s finances at the May Board of Education meeting. “One thing that we do know though from the Governor’s Office is there is going to be an across the board 14 percent. How that translates is yet to be seen.”
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s office has been in contact with several state departments to let them know that budget cuts will be inevitable and there is expected to be a 14 percent cut to all state agencies This cut includes Georgia’s public schools.
The Georgia State Legislature, who sets these budgets, is still in session and have yet to announce a finalization due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Legislators are expected to resume meetings in June of this year.
The lag in legislation makes it difficult for schools to move forward with fiscal year 2021 budgeting, but FCSS is on schedule and planning for what may come.
“That amount is significant for the Fannin County School District,” Gwatney said of the proposed cut to state funds, but added that through conservative decisions in the past, FCSS has a reserve and is in a fortunate situation of being better prepared to “weather this financial storm” than many other districts.
Gwatney also pointed out that Fannin County is a debt free school system which will aid in financial stability for Fiscal Year 2021.
Board member Lewis Deweese questioned what the budget cuts would affect and specifically questioned its effects on personnel.
“The guidance we have been given is to expect a 14 percent decrease,” FCSS Director of Finance Susan Wynn answered, “It will decrease our revenues in our total operating budget, but we have a very sound reserve so it’s not expected to affect any personnel.”
Dr. Gwatney added, “I believe there will be an economic recovery. I think it will take time, but our reserve will allow us to get to that point. It’s my intention to protect all people involved with the Fannin County School System. That would include, of course, the students with that reserve, and our personnel with that reserve, and also the community, the taxpayers, with that reserve.”
Fannin County’s monthly financial update given at the meeting showed that the school system is still operating and maintaining a healthy financial status.
Wynn, who was recently awarded for distinction and excellent financial reporting by the Georgia Department of Audits, gave an update with 75 percent of fiscal year 2020 complete.
This update showed that revenues were up and expenditures were down for the district from last year.
Expenses showed $26,015,727.37 so far for the year. This number represents 70.31 percent of expenditures budgeted. At this time last year, expenditures were at 72 percent.
While SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) did not meet expectations for the month, it was still the highest amount collected for a March, bringing in $445,424.87. This collection showed a 0.033 percent growth over March of 2019 despite the state shutting down for a portion of this time.
Numbers for April and May are being eagerly anticipated as a statewide Shelter In Place was issued and recently lifted.
“It will be a good indicator of the economy,” Gwatney said of awaiting the SPLOST collection numbers for April and May.
The FCSS will move forward with the budgeting process for Fiscal Year 2021 with tentative dates set in August to adopt a budget and set a millage rate.
FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – Chairman Stan Helton, Post One Earl Johnson, and Post Two Glenn Patterson were in total agreement about suspending non-critical capital improvement projects for the foreseeable future.
“We know the cost potentially is going to go up potentially for what we have to deal with and most certainly revenue coming in. Our LOST and SPLOST can be impacted,” stated Helton. “For non-critical capital improvement projects, I would recommend that we suspend those until we have a better idea for the next two to three months when we start getting better information on what’s happening with our revenue and how that’s going to impact our budget.”
These projects wouldn’t be canceled just tabled until Fannin County can make an accurate estimate about costs and revenue for the future. Until COVID-19 hit the United States, the county experienced continual growth in LOST and SPLOST collections.
Gov. Kemp extended his shelter in place for medically fragile and senior citizens as well as extended Georgia’s Public Health Emergency until June 12. These actions will also affect county revenue as many individuals are still confirmed to their homes. However, short-term rentals can now book guests. The ban expired on Friday and due to Kemp’s executive order, counties can’t enact legislation to strengthen or lessen the gov’s actions.
“Yes, with all the uncertainty, we just don’t know what is going to happen in the future,” affirmed Patterson. “We do not need to put any more undue stress on the citizens and the system. I think it would be a wise move at this time.”
“I believe we do not need to spend a single dollar that is not necessary at this point,” Johnson stated. “I don’t think we need to spend any money at all that is not necessary. I think it’s a good idea, and I think it’s absolutely critical that we move in that direction right now.”
Helton added that the issues can be addressed one at a time. Before the next commission meeting on May 12, department heads are asked to inform them of any critical spending needs. If an essential project is identified, the commissioners will address it at the May 12 meeting.
“Hopefully when all this nears an end, we can get a better handle on it, but as we move forward just watch every penny that we have,” Johnson said.
As far as 2020 revenue thus far, the first quarter did continue to see overall growth.
SPLOST and LOST collections were up by 10 percent in the first quarter, but with the statewide shutdown and short-term rental ban, the second quarter most likely won’t experience a similar financial boom.
Overall, Fannin was operating four percent under budget from January to March. The total budget for 2020 is $28,563,575, and through March, departments should be 25 percent into their budgets. Some areas were over such as risk management at 27 percent. It includes health insurance, an area that continues to eat up everyone’s budgets as healthcare costs continue to rise.
The courthouse debt payment is also made during the first quarter. The budget expenditure is $1,120,000. The county paid half of the amount already. The second will be made later in the year.
“After this year, that would leave us at $1.1M on the debt of this courthouse, which has been a debt that has been out there for 16 to 17 years. It’ll be a great moment in the county when we get that long-term debt off our financials,” Helton affirmed.
A few other departments were over 25 percent. The fire department made its one-time lease payment for $61,000. EMS turned in extra overtime wages to the amount of $21,000. The detention center was over by one percent, or $14,000, because of pre-bought uniforms and wages, according to Helton. These overages should flatten out as the year progresses.
Johnson reminded department heads to be “very conservative as we possibly can at this moment to make sure that as we creep our way out of this that we can mitigate as much as we can the losses incurred throughout all taxes.”
BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Robin Gazaway presented the unadjusted budget for 2019, which came in at four percent under.
“This is not final just so everyone knows. There are several adjustments that need to be made. Most everything has been under budget. Risk management was a little over. There’s going to be some more expenses, but there’s going to be some more reimbursements on that,” Gazaway said in her report opening.
Almost every department came in under budget for the year. Recreation went over due to new programs that were approved. EMA came in a little over as well because of the new fire station.
The numbers could change once the adjustments are finished.
SPLOST and LOST were up again from past years, continuing a trend for the county. The numbers can be found at the Georgia Dept. of Revenue. For 2019, LOST was $438,348 and SPLOST was $576,079.
Gazaway told Post One Earl Johnson, “New auditors probably won’t come in until May to do the final audit. They are just trying to put us in the rotation.”
Traditionally, Gazaway has waited until the auditors have finished their work before presenting the adjusted budget to the board for a vote.
Johnson also called attention to discrepancies in Public Works’ old SPLOST and new SPLOST numbers.
“The old SPLOST is $842,030 under on the report,” said Johnson, “so do we have any idea what we spent out of the old SPLOST, is it the $657,970 number?”
Gazaway confirmed the $657,970 was the amount spent. She also thought they had more money in that account and the auditors made an adjustment. The money didn’t disappear; it went into the new SPLOST because of the adjustment.
“Because of the two-month cut-off, I had put money in the old SPLOST when it should have been in the new SPLOST,” explained Gazaway. “So, when we did budgets, I thought we had a little more money in the old. It’s just something I overestimated and told Zack. We kind of went by my numbers.”
McCaysville, Ga. – The new year brought in new faces to the McCaysville City Council, and these new members wasted no time stepping away from the status quo of city council meetings.
Council member Gilita Carter brought pause to the meeting’s proceedings early on when a motion was made to “pay the bills for January”.
“I’ve been coming to a lot of meetings and it always comes up, about paying the bills,” Carter spoke to the Mayor and Council, “Well, I often sit there and wonder, what bills? Whose bills?”
In meetings past, a motion would come to pay the city’s bills for the month, followed by a second, and unanimous approval. There was never given any explanation or break down of what these bills were or an amount to be paid.
Carter, who is assigned to look at city financials, continued, “We (the city) did operate at a loss and we need to look closely at these things and keep track.” She followed this statement by reading a detailed list of the monthly bills to be approved broken down by department.
The department totals for the month were as follows:
- Administration – $1,633.37
- Police Department – $17,190.74
- Court – $519.50
- Street Department – $1,272.94
- City Park – $1419.39
- Water and Sewer – $15,971.69
After completing the list of bills due, Carter questioned, “Have all of these, to this point, been approved? Is there anything on here that had to go before prior approval?”
McCaysville City Clerk Nancy Godfrey clarified the spending process of the city for new council members: “We do have a policy or resolution in place that anything over $500 is supposed to be approved by council.”
“The water department is different. All of those things don’t have to come before the council because they’re chemicals that are required to treat water,” Godfrey explained, but added that there was one item in the department’s bills that was questionable.
No representative from the Water and Sewer Department was present to give insight to council about this item.
McCaysville Chief of Police Michael Earley was present and did explain his department’s bills that had a total over $500.
One of these bills in particular accounted for the bulk of the department’s expenditures for the month. $11,300.87 was requested to pay Resurgens Orthopaedics.
This item was easily explained by Earley. Resurgens Orthopaedics is where suspect James Larry Parris, Jr. was treated after the officer involved shooting that took place in Aug. 2019.
“Once, you discharge your weapon on someone, they automatically become in custody,” Earley explained and continued, “so we assume all of their medical bills from that point forward and while they’re in jail.”
There were a few more items listed for the police department that had needed prior council approval. Council member Jason Woody questioned Earley, “Was it in the budget to purchase those items?”
Earley answered Woody that all purchases were in the budget and offered to code his budget showing where each line item is taken from.
In the police department bills was an invoice for $702.08 for new tires (including balancing and mounting) for a Tahoe.
While Earley agreed that moving forward he would seek approval on expenditures over $500, he added, “There’s a few things in a police department that, if we have a few blow outs on our vehicles, I can’t wait to get tires for a vehicle. I have to get our vehicle back on the road.”
Earley suggested that he meet with council to go over necessities for the department and get an ongoing pre-approval of certain items that his department needs to function immediately, so that if need arose he would already have the go ahead to purchase.
Council agreed to this suggestion by Earley.
Moving forward the City Council agreed that all department purchases over $500, that is nonessential for the department’s continued operation, would need to have prior approval before spending can take place.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga – The $28,564,665 operating budget received full-approval from the commissioners after they tabled it in Nov. 26, 2019 meeting.
In the last meeting, Post One Earl Johnson refused to approve the 2020 budget until Chief Financial Officer Robin Gazaway provided an approximated fund balance, to accurately determine the county’s financial standing.
“I have a tree’s worth of paper.” commented Johnson, “I’m fine with the budget as presented. The only thing that still concerns me as far as presenting our revenues, as far as land development or 911, those are all still revenue generators it’d be nice to have those numbers, from here moving forward, in our reports too.”
The monthly reports don’t consistently include those numbers or presented as permits received. Johnson suggested including the year-to-year dollar amount in land development, as well as other revenue generators, to gain a detailed assessment of building revenues in Fannin.
“Reporting our revenues so we can all keep up with revenues in the departments to me is critical.” said Johnson, “I just think it’s a very good gauge to know where we’re going to have revenues and expenditures.”
Johnson stressed that it didn’t have to be exact, just a measure to see the financial direction of the county. He used 911/ambulance services as an example. The department has a $2 million budget expenditure but brings in around $1 million in revenues, so the department only spends $1 million.
“[The budget’s] increase[d] from the 2019 budget that was $27,710,456, that’s an increase of $854,000 or three percent increase over the previous year,” explained Chairman Stan Helton, “We’ll be going into the general fund for $678,616.”
Commissioners cut around half a million from the original budget proposal in Oct. 2019. In the future, the commissioners will receive a monthly approximated fund balance.
Post Two Glenn Patterson recognized, “It’s one of the most important things we do all year long. We took a second look at it and reviewed things that we might feel uncomfortable with.”
He also commended Gazaway, “She bent over backward to help me understand. It’s a big step for all of us to understand these things.”
Helton added, “I’m greatly appreciative of Commissioner Patterson and Johnson[…]everybody’s input is important. We all have the same goal, and that’s trying to get the best services for the fewest amount of dollars for the taxpayer.”
Additionally, the commissioners chose a new auditor for 2019. The state of Georgia recommends to change auditors every three to five years, and Rushton and Associates conducted the previously three audits. Bates, Carter, and Company won with a bid of $55,000. The financial company audited several county governments in the past.
McCaysville, Ga. – The final 2019 meeting of the McCaysville City Council was anything but business as usual, as conversations aimed at the Mayor became heated and accusations came to light.
Council member Rodney Patterson, who ran against Mayor Thomas Seabolt in the recent city election, used his last meeting with the council to “clear his conscious”. Patterson brought to the forefront some of the issues that he felt the re-elected Seabolt was not being completely transparent about.
The first of Patterson’s reveals were the Mayor’s reimbursement filings for the use of his personal vehicle to conduct city business. According to Patterson, Seabolt had turned in $2,055 in claimed vehicle expenditures last year.
“That’s equivalent to 822 gallons of gas at $2.50 a gallon,” Patterson said explaining his concern and added, “That’s 12,335 miles at 15 miles per gallon.”
Patterson questioned Seabolt if he had done that many miles in less than a 2 square mile city. Seabolt responded, “I might have. I don’t know.”
Seabolt pointed out that the amount also covers “wear and tear” on the vehicle and that he had adhered to the City Charter when turning in his expenditures.
Council member Richard Wagner came to Seabolt’s defense stating that the expenditures also cover vehicle insurance: “I don’t think it’s being abused at all.”
“I’ve never turned in no expense,” Patterson retorted, stating that he has used his personal vehicle for city business as well, “I figured the $200 a month (city council salary) they give me was fair enough for me to do my traveling.”
Patterson then turned his attention to recent renovations being completed at the city park. $28,000 was set aside for renovations of the park’s restrooms. This remodel was to include five toilets and one urinal.
Beavers Home Improvement was put in charge of the job and the city did manage to stay under budget only spending $23,346. However, renovations were not done as expected. Patterson pointed out that the restrooms ended up only having 3 toilets and one urinal, and that no insulation or heating and cooling were put into place, so the restrooms could not even be left open during the Winter months due to the threat of freezing pipes.
A citizen in the audience, a former plumber with over 30 years experience, chimed in on the restroom issue.
“I’ve never seen a job that was done so shabby,” the citizen addressed Seabolt speaking of pipes being installed at improper heights and the lack of quality of the fixtures.
The citizen went on to express his feelings on the possibility of nepotism playing a role: “This man is not a plumber. He is not a qualified contractor. He’s not licensed, but yet he gets a job to go down there and gets paid by the city and his mother’s on the council. This is not right.”
Wondering why the job wasn’t inspected before payment was given the citizen summed up his feelings by stating, “I’ve never in my life seen my tax dollars thrown down the drain like I did down there.”
Although the restroom remodel came in under budget, the park budget itself is $42,459 over the original $300,000 agreed upon by council to spend. Patterson asked Seabolt why the city had not been reimbursed through grant money for the amount spent on the park, and wondered if the city would see the reimbursement at all. Patterson felt the bid process was not done properly by the city and this could disqualify them for reimbursement.
Lastly, Patterson questioned why city employees were driving a Class A vehicle without a CDL license.
According to the United States Department of Transportation, a Class A CDL is required to drive tractor-trailer, or combination vehicles that have a gross combined weight rating of 26,001 pounds or higher with the towed portion of the vehicle that weighing more than 10,000 lbs.
“Why did we not send them to Tri County?” Patterson questioned about the licensing, saying that he had brought this issue to the council before and it was brushed aside. “I just want to know why our employees is driving around illegally in a CDL Vehicle, and there is not a single employee in the City of McCaysville that is licensed to drive it.”
Patterson pointed out the liability to the city and asked City Attorney Cortney Stuart what would be the end result if there were an accident in the vehicle without proper licensing. Stuart replied, “It’s a problem.”
Seabolt also took criticism from citizens in the audience.
Tamberlyn Tanner addressed the workload that McCaysville Chief of Police Michael Earley has taken on. Earley gives monthly updates at City Council meetings, and usually these updates pertain to more than just police business.
In these updates Earley will often speak of upkeep taking place within the city. It is clear from the updates that Earley is the point of contact on many projects including roadwork, bridge inspection, and city infrastructure.
Tanner expressed that these responsibilities should fall on the Mayor and not the city’s Chief of Police.
“How are you supposed to do your job plus do his job?” Tanner spoke to Earley and then turned to Seabolt, “You’ve added things on his plate that you should be doing and you should be taking care of, not him.”
Tanner said that Earley’s main concern should be to protect and serve the citizens of the city, and wonders how he can continue to do so when new responsibilities are being added to his plate regularly.
This turned into a heated debate between Tanner and Seabolt about Seabolt’s inability or unwillingness to handle the responsibilities of mayor with Seabolt finally stating to Tanner, “I’m not going to sit here and listen to you.”
“Well, you will because I pay taxes here,” Tanner replied.
Seabolt offered no further explanations or defense during the public comments and adjourned the meeting.
Featured Image : Previous McCaysville City Council meeting. (L-R) Rodney Patterson, Richard Wagner, Thomas Seabolt, and Larry Collis
BLUE RIDGE, GA – Fire Chief Larry Thomas delivered his first ISO update to the board of commissioners on Sept. 24 and reported that he has hired a temporary person for hydro-maintenance as well as added new training classes.
After last month’s report of Fannin County’s ISO rating increasing to a six, Thomas has implemented several methods to try and ensure a favorable report in July 2020.
Thomas has met with all the mayors in Fannin County as well as The Water Authority (TWA), and they have agreed to assist the fire department.
“Did you ever have any luck finding any companies that will do the flow tests or is that something the cities are agreeing to help?” asked Post One Earl Johnson.
Thomas confirmed that Blue Ridge is providing the county with flow test data that is has recorded. The information from Blue Ridge goes back three years. McCaysville hasn’t offered that information but has promised to help in any way possible.
The temporary worker performing hydro-maintenance is servicing 20-27 hydrants a day, and Thomas would like to hire another temporary employee to assist with the 800 plus hydrants.
Chairman Stan Helton asked, “How long is it going to take them to [finish maintenance]?”
Thomas hopes the contracted workers will finish by the end of 2019. Then perform the maintenance again in early 2020, so when the insurance person comes back, the county will have two years completed.
The flow tests and maintenance should help the county earn up to seven points in the water department section of the ISO test. The money to pay for the hydrant servicing will come out of the fire department’s operations budget.
Johnson commented, “Have we found any contractors that do [flow tests] because I’m glad we have a guy going around greasing everything, but I think they need to be doing the correct flow test while they’re doing it.”
“I’ve talked to one,” confirmed Thomas, “I think he quoted me $75 per hydrant which would be $60,000 to do all of them. He would be able to do it, but I don’t know the time frame he would give for 800 hydrants.”
Two years of flow tests would each cost $60,000.
“The contract labor that you’re talking about hiring, they’re not going to be able to do an actual flow test,” stated Johnson, “They’re flowing the hydrant, just so we’re clear on the difference, a flow test has how many gallons per minute and probably pressure at that hydrant…We might want to look into if a contractor can do it all for $75 a hydrant.”
TWA’s looking to see if any other companies have done flow tests on record. Also, Thomas wants to see if the cities will help cover the costs of the flow tests.
Flow tests and maintenance needs to be performed every year.
For the fire department personnel section, the county has to hire paid firefighters, responding to fire calls, as well as preplanning for commercial, industrial, and institution buildings. Together, these efforts should increase the test score.
“We really need to start talking about that coming toward budget time to see what we can do to help the department,” stated Johnson, “Because I think that is another area that we’re going to have to move toward is having full-time fighters.”
Currently, a new rookie class is in training as well as additional training being offered volunteers.
“We will continue to do as much public safety education as possible to gain points in that area,” said Thomas, “Additionally, Cherokee County Georgia Fire Chief Tim Prather has offered the services of his Investigations Manager Cheri Collett to assist us in reviewing the ISO findings.”
Collett’s expertise is free of charge for Fannin County. She will begin as soon as possible.
“If we keep saying it’s not going to raise things that much by one point, it’s really not going to be worth the county spending a bunch of extra money. So, we need to make our mind up, does the ISO rating mean anything or nothing,” stated Johnson, “We’re all in agreement that the ISO rating needs to go in the other direction. So to go in the other direction, it’s going to take money. I think we all understand that, so I don’t think we need to keep saying it’s not that big a difference.”
Thomas agreed and added that he believes in the fire department is progressing with the ISO rating and overall.
Helton added he would like to see how much it will cost the county to get the ISO rating back down.
Johnson finished with, “I was able to witness first-hand the need for some full-time firefighters. There was a fire in my neck of the woods and we should be very thankful for volunteers that participate. The glaringly obvious thing that I saw for all of your department, there needed to be more people.”
BLUE RIDGE, GA – As of August 2019, Fannin County’s operating three percent under budget with Risk Management already 87 percent into its expenditure for the year.
The majority of departments reported approximately 60% into yearly budgets, but Risk Management far exceeded the others due to health insurance claims.
Post Two Glenn Patterson commented, “Risk Management 87 percent and we’re at the end of September. Are we going to go over?”
CFO Robin Gazaway confirmed that yes, the county would go over expenditure wise. She then assured him that the stopgap and reinsurance would activate at $2.4M. Individual employees also have a stopgap set at a certain amount.
“That keeps our costs down overall. The last two years, we had very little over $2M in health care costs of reinsurance,” said Gazaway.
A few departments also showed over for the year with the Fire Department at $128,926. Gazaway stated that half of the cost comes from the lease payment.
“The other half of it is for expenditures that we had for the new fire station. We had some money left over that I anticipated we would spend but did not spend. I am reimbursing the general fund for those expenditures, but that did not happen until September,” explained Gazaway.
This report just shows through August, so next month’s report should show a decrease in the Fire Department overages.
The Fire Department has also generated $127K from a recent property sale.
Horseshoe Bend Restrooms
Commissioners unanimously approved the development of new heated bathrooms at Horseshoe Bend Park for $53,680.
The process will include grading and demolition of current bathrooms with new construction of 20×20 set of bathrooms with a 20×30 walkway. The new facilities will also include HVAC and electricity, which the current facilities lack.
“It will match exactly what’s in Tom Boyd Park with those earthy brown colors, so we can have a consistent theme throughout our parks,” explained Recreation Department Director Eddie O’Neal.
The new bathrooms will add a toilet in men’s and women’s units. O’Neal has a goal of completing the project by Dec. 2019.
Chairman Stan Helton asked, “Is there anything that we might look at to improve the security?”
O’Neal confirmed that it is time to add a gate at Horseshoe Bend, but the county will decide on that at a later time.
Blue Ridge, Ga – CFO Robin Gazaway estimated that the county saved between $100,000 to $300,000 in reinsurance based on former CFO estimates.
Risk management’s budget was 85% into the operating budget for the year. Gazaway adjusted the presentation of the information with auditor’s permission to subtract the reinsurance money that the county receives for this expenditure.
Gazaway stated that she did a little research regarding the budget, and based on the information she found in the newspaper, she estimated that the county saved up to about $300,000.
“What was projected to cost the county and what was actually cost the county last year, we saved up to $300,000,” said Gazaway, “Again, I don’t have all the facts so I can’t tell you exact number, it could be less, it could be a little more, but I’m pretty sure it’s anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000.”
This amount is after the reinsurance paid everything for the year. Gazaway only had articles to base her estimations off of from that previous year.
Post One Glenn Patterson asked for confirmation about the savings amount from last year.
Gazaway confirmed that it only speculated savings from 2018, and it could be different this year based on the reinsurance money the county receives.
Post One Earl Johnson wanted to know when the commissioners could find out about the precise number of savings for the year.
Gazaway stated, “We can’t know that number precisely. That was just something that Mrs. Kirby had anticipated that I had read in one of the newspapers, that she had anticipated that the 2017-2018 costs would be $2.3M. If you’re not fully-insured, you won’t know what that number is unless you are fully insured.”
“So your numbers are off someone else’s numbers?” asked Johnson.
“Yes, sir, it was published in the paper. I just went by what was published in the paper,” explained Gazaway.
According to Gazaway, if an organization doesn’t have a history of being fully insured, then it can’t be predicted. She believed that Mrs. Kirby went by numbers that Kirby’s agent provided and made calculations based off of that information.
Mrs. Kirby was the county’s former CFO.
Fannin County administration was 58% into the budget through July 2019 with a couple of departments showing over. The Fire department, EMS, and Sheriff’s Office all had large lease prepayments or one time expenditures cited as the reasoning behind the overages. The jail cited inmate care such as medical and food for its increased expenses.
$60,000 for the fire department’s lease payment and another $64,000 occurred after the unexpected sale of property for the fire station, which resulted in unanticipated expenditures.
“I know it doesn’t show as generated revenue, like the recreation department,” stated Patterson, “I think that would be better, so at least, we could see the generated revenue for the sale.”
Hotel and motel reported lower than expected due to Mrs. Jackson not being in the office and will be reported more accurately next month.
SPLOST up 10 percent from this time last year.
Director of Recreation Eddie O’Neal presented three quotes for the replacement of the department’s maintenance truck. The old truck had over 200,000 miles on it and needed a new transmission. The lower bid from North Georgia Ford of $25,643 received unanimous approval for the purchase.
McCaysville, Ga. – The McCaysville City Council held a public hearing on Aug. 29 to discuss the city’s 2019 – 2020 budget.
Read by McCaysville Mayor Thomas Seabolt, the resolution to adopt the 2019 – 2020 budget was met with no opposition by citizens who were present for the hearing.
According to the proposed budget the City General Fund is projecting a revenue of $1,455,526.00 and projecting expenses to be $1,455,526.00. Similarly the city’s Water and Sewer Service is projecting a revenue of $2,105,450.00 and projecting expenses to run $2,105,450.00.
These projections give the City of McCaysville a balanced budget for the 2019 – 2020 fiscal year that will end June 20, 2020.
“I think the budget’s wonderful,” Councilmember Sue Beaver shared her opinion of the proposed budget noting that the city needs everything that is in the expenditures in order to function.
Points of interest in the budget include the following departments:
Administrative proposed budget : $234,259.00
Police Department proposed budget : $585,047.00
Street Department proposed budget : $245,615.00
City Park proposed budget : $374,250.00
Municipal Court proposed budget : $16,355.00
Water Distribution proposed budget : $1,614,995.00
Sewer Collection and Disposal proposed budget : $389,455.00
Water Treatment Plant proposed budget : $101,000.00
General Fund projected revenue : $1,455,526.00
SPLOST projected revenue : $333,020.00
SPLOST Capital Outlay proposed expenditures : $202,500.00
The proposed budget for the City of McCaysville 2019 – 2020 fiscal year is expected to be voted in unanimously on Sep. 10 at the councils’ next regular monthly meeting.
Blue Ridge, Ga – July financial report informed commissioners that insurance claims blew 2019 risk management budget by 37 percent.
Chief Financial Officer Robin Gazaway delivered her monthly financial update for 2019 through June. Several departments were over budget six months into the year. Some departments carried pre-payments for leases from the beginning of the year.
Gazaway also met with all department heads to address line items individually.
However, Risk Management went 37 percent over budget, outpacing overages in other departments.
Health insurance claims represented the bulk of Risk Management expenditures. Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson, asked “what are we looking at as far as curtailing it. We’re already way over what we budgeted?
The new insurance policy which took effect on July 1 should help reduce the expense. The insurance company, who works with the county, expected with spouses coming off the policy that government could save over $200,000-$300,000 in insurance claims.
Gazaway stated, “We installed some new programs to hopefully keep employees healthier, but as far as claims go, that’s just when they go to the doctor.”
However, Gazaway doesn’t have the numbers of how many people stopped using county insurance in July. The number of claims was down from last year, but no guarantee about people’s health for the rest of the year.
In 2017, the fund balance covered the overages. However, if insurance claims continue to rise, then more health care changes could be coming for Fannin County employees or changing the entire insurance program.
“Certain people that have gone over a certain amount, reinsurance pays us back. We haven’t gotten some of that money back, but they will eventually if it’s the same people, give us money back, explained Gazaway, “We have a stopgap that we pay out before we get the money back.”
Currently, Fannin County has $200,000 in reinsurance claims.
“I’m very concerned about this number,” stated Johnson, “I’m not trying to be hard-nosed. I don’t deal with numbers where I just sit here and hope. It’s like me hoping none of my guys wreck today. I know what the cost could be if they all decide to hit each other.”
Gazaway assured that all the reinsurance money back from some employees, but has to go over the stopgap first. At the year-end, the county will get a check back if it spent over the maximum amount, which is $2.4M.
“I just budget less than that hoping we don’t have to spend that money,” stated Gazaway.
2019 marked the third year Fannin County operated off a self-insured plan.
“The motivation to go to that in the first place was the anticipation that there would be savings, which hasn’t happened,” stated Chairman Stan Helton, “I guess a conventional insurance program, they would tell us the cost so we can allocate it that way…I don’t like it either. It’s the biggest variable cost in the whole budget.”
Johnson asked, “Can we buy the amount down?”
Gazaway offered to raise deductibles or out of pocket costs, but everything affects the employee. For the last three years, deductible and premiums have remained the same.
“At some point, we’re going to have to be competitive with other benefit plans,” said Johnson, “eventually the county might have to absorb some of the costs because everything that happens can’t directly affect the employee. Other
plans might be more attractive to an employee.”
The county also pays for tobacco cessation methods on the new plan, which means the county will spend more money in the short-term with hopes that future claims decrease. Currently, a two-week supply of patches costs around $30 and a two-week supply of nicotine gum cost $40.
Still, smokers are expected to pay an extra $50 on their insurance premium starting January 2020, and the county doesn’t cover cessation methods forever. Several tobacco users have informed Gazaway they will pay the $50, so county might not experience and expenses increase from covering cessation patches, gum, inhaler or lozenge.
SPLOST and LOST for 2019 continue to rise with SPLOST 10% ahead of 2018 intake at this time. Currently, the county’s budget even for the year, not under or over.
Recreation Department Improvements
Recreation Department Head Eddie O’Neal presented a bid for a TOPO survey of the park to fix drainage problems. The bid for $13,700 TOPO service provides Recreation Department with a starting point for creating solutions to heavy rains on soccer, baseball, and softball fields.
“Playing surfaces are lower than walking paths and parking lot, and it’s a continual fight to maintain,” said O’Neal,
“We can take the TOPO survey to engineers get help with drainage and what needs to happen on these fields.”
SPLOST funds will pay for improvements.
“We’ve had a considerable amount of rain,” stated Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson, “They wouldn’t be able to practice or play games.”
455 to 500 kids use those fields every year.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Tax Assessors Plan Out 2020 Budget and Discuss Late Homestead Mailings during their meeting on Friday, July 12, 2019.
The board discussed personnel to finalize their budget plans, requesting $686,751.21 total for their 2020 budget.
If you’ve applied for a homestead exemption and you’ve yet to have it go through, this is because of a change in staffing and the board states that mailings have been sent out as of Monday, July 15, 2019.
As of now, the next meeting will be Friday, August 2, 2019 at 2 pm for anyone interested in attending.
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Blue Ridge, Ga – Rushton & Company presented 2018 audit findings and attempted to address the reasoning behind adjusting each line item at the end of the year.
The company’s representative Sam Latimer outlined 2018 audit and issued an unmodified opinion aka no areas for concern. However, left 12 comments for improvements in their report.
Overall, Fannin County Government behaved fiscally responsible according to the audit, not exceeding the operating budget. However, health insurance significantly overspent.
The operations budget took in $26,680,936M in net investment in capital assets, $6,639,299M in restricted assets, $9,304,456M in unrestricted assets, and $42,624,691 for a total net position.
Revenue over expenses for the year equaled $1,194,327, which occurred because of the increase in property and sales taxes. Property tax increased $229,000 and a total revenue increase of $740,000, most of that comes from sales tax. LOST is up $260,000, and title ad valorem increased by $186,669. Fines and forfeitures decreased by $175,000, and other revenues increased $80,000.
Expenditures increased by $1.1M, largely due to insurance claims. The health insurance claims accounted for $700,000, superior court increased around $100,000, and fire increased by $527,000, due to buying three new trucks.
The unassigned fund balance accounts for 6.7 months of operation with $10,314,184, which is considered great shape by the auditors. The state of Georgia requires counties to have at two to four months of operating expenses stored away.
Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson questioned who made the recommendation and decision behind moving each line item at the end of the year.
“You’re here to just look at what we’re doing. Why are you helping move funds from one line to another?” asked Johnson.
Latimer explained that he just advises and management makes the final decisions. Rushton and Company make recommendations.
“Why are you helping CFO move numbers around,” questioned Johnson, “The reason why I am asking is because I think it’s part of my job.”
Rushton and Company has always made the three percent adjustments, and try to advise, but not make final decisions. Latimer stated he didn’t know why the final adjustment took place so late into the year this year.
Johnson stated that he would have loved to talk to Latimer before this meeting, but he never spoke to him or anyone from Rushton and Company this year. It’s difficult to understand the budget when you can add $500,000 to roads for one large adjustment at the end of the year. It suggests that maybe some budgets don’t need to be as large.
“Nothing raised a flag on my end,” said Latimer, “If adjustments should be done earlier and throughout the year, then that might need what we get to. The year-end adjustment then hopefully would be pretty small. We would come to you for approval of each adjustment. ”
Blue Ridge, Ga. – Comments made at a recent Fannin County Board of Assessors meeting led to misinformation being spread throughout the public about county employees having to work overtime without pay.
Fannin County Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran clarifies that none of her employees are working this overtime without pay and that her comments were misunderstood.
“No,” Cochran gave a simple answer when asked directly if the rumors were true and went on to explain where the misunderstanding of words had taken place.
Until recently, some employees of the office would arrive to work early and clock-in, but would focus on personal ventures rather than work related to the department.
These employees had never been paid for this time, according to Cochran, but it made for confusion in looking at time sheets.
“We made some changes. Lynn Doss gave us advisement and said what we would like for you to do is not let anybody clock in until 8 o’clock and don’t let anybody clock out until 5 o’clock” Cochran said of steps that have been taken to alleviate the confusion.
Cochran added, “If you’re here and you’re having your coffee, or your making your toast back there, do not clock in because it could be misconstrued.”
The Tax Assessor’s office has been able to move forward despite the reorganization of the department. The work of the department from Jan. 1 of this year to present has accounted for almost quarter of all site visits since 2018.
From 2018 to current the department has made 8,289 site visits, with 2,193 of these visits being completed in 2019.
The department has also handled 233 Conservation applications or inquiries and have processed 241 Homesteads.
Cochran updated the board on the changes made to job descriptions of each of the employees and the responsibilities that have been shuffled throughout the department, stating that there has been “a lot of give and take” and adding “everyone is working very good together”.
The department is on track to continue its appraisal process through a three year cycle, and Cochran noted that because of the hard work of her employees the process of building schedules is becoming easier.
“I’m very impressed with the staff and how they are doing under a stressful environment. They are doing fabulous,” Cochran said after informing the board that when she took over some schedule ratings were as low as 18 and through the work of her staff the ratings are now starting at 37.
Cochran updated that the transition in mapping has had some bumps in the road, with Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS) now handling mapping and rural land schedules, but her department working with the company to smooth out the process.
While there is still concern over workload within the department, Cochran stated of her concerns and her staff, “Every time I say that, they make it work. They pull it off.”
The Tax Assessor’s Office is expected to mail notices on June 14 and will continue to update on work status at the regularly scheduled monthly meetings.
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