Johnson calls for accurate numbers, refuses to vote on 2020 Budget

Feature News, News, Police & Government

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – In heated 2020 budget hearing and regular commissioners’ meetings, Post One Earl Johnson refused to vote on 2020 budget prepared by Chief Financial Officer Robin Gazaway and declared, “I don’t trust a single number on [the proposed budget].”

The proposed 2020 budget featured several increases:

  • Department – Increase
  • Risk Management – $230,000
  • Sheriff and Jail – $150,000 (this includes a 6% salary increase)
  • Board of Elections – $120,000
  • Fire Services – $175,000 (accounts for the hiring of six full-time firefighters)
  • Overall Wage Increase – $200,000

Chairman Stan Helton stated that these increases accounted for 95% of 2020 budget growth. The total expenditures sit at $28,564,665, and total revenue is $27,904,369, which created a shortfall for the county. As a result, Fannin must dip into the general fund balance to cover the expenses, approximately $676,616 for 2020. This is the second year that the county will use the fund balance but still has around 6 months in reserves. GASB recommends that governments keep at least two months in its unrestricted fund balance.

Johnson asked for the current fund balance number for the county. However, Gazaway didn’t have the exact number at the meeting and added it would be impossible to know. She said the 2019 fund balance wouldn’t be known until the auditors finished their yearly audit.

She stated that the 2018 audit put the general fund at $10M and estimated after removing the $500,000 shortfall in 2019, the fund balance could be around $9,500,000. However, she doesn’t know for certain.

“It’s a hard thing for us commissioners to know if we’re on track if we don’t know what that number is,” commented Johnson, “Otherwise, the only person who is going to know is the county CFO.”

Post Two Glenn Patterson asked, “We’re in a financially sound place?”

“Oh, yes” Gazaway responded. She explained that she sends out monthly budget reports to departments and reasoned that she “looks at the numbers every day” as to why she didn’t have an exact fund balance number ready.

Gazaway added, “I let Chairman Helton know if anything comes up.”

Johnson continued to press Gazaway on accurate numbers, “I’m not going to move forward until I have it. I think the CFO should have [the fund balance] number.”

Helton stepped in and asked, “Could we do an approximated fund balance?”

The CFO confirmed that it is possible and would be “pretty accurate,” but didn’t want to place any certainty behind it.

Helton also instructed Gazaway to print out the general fund bank account balance for the commissioners to review in the regular meeting.

Johnson also brought up the Risk Management number for the year asking where the county stood reinsurance wise. Gazaway said that Risk Management improved for the month from 105% to 102% into its 2019 budget. She believed it was at $1.6M currently. However, she “didn’t bring [her] budget papers at this time” and couldn’t confirm these numbers during the 2020 budget hearing.

Moving onto the regular board of commissioners meeting, Gazaway presented her financial report through Oct. 2019, which has the county operating 1 percent under. In this report, she presented Public Works New SPLOST as over budget by $175,542 and split out the GDOT LMIG grant of $732,476. The law does require grants to be listed separately from SPLOST or general fund revenue.

2020 budget

Public Works New SPLOST budget shows over, but the overall department isn’t over budget due to multiple grants from GDOT.

Johnson took issue with the presentation of this report because at a glance it appears that Public Works is over budget, but in fact, the department has around $800,000 from LMIG and SLMIG. Commissioners and the public in attendance have to do “a lot of math” to find accurate budget numbers.

He also asked why the SLMIG amount of $60,000 wasn’t included in the Oct. 2019 budget report.

Gazaway said, “Mr. Helton asked me just to put the LMIG on [the report].”

Helton agreed with Gazaway’s reporting of the budget report, “I guess if you look at it from just a general approach to it, we’re not [over budget in Public Works], but I guess the reporting on it as far as what has to be recorded as SPLOST, that number is what it is. That’s based-off of actuals to date.”

Gazaway doesn’t expect any additional money to come in to affect the new SPLOST number between now and the end of the year. The general fund in Public Works represents budget, salaries, and expenses which is under budget. The old SPLOST account was closed out, and Public Works began pulling from new SPLOST. This number is currently greater than expected in the approved 2019, but the LMIG and SLMIG grants counteract that overage.

“We’re told that we’re $175,000 over budget, but real money expended by county expenditures, we’re not. You have to decipher all this due to the way our CFO decides to report on these numbers. So since I don’t feel comfortable with a single number that you provided me with, I won’t be voting on the budget,” declared Johnson.

Patterson asked, “What can [other commissioners] do to make [Johnson] feel comfortable?”

“[The county] can provide real accurate fund balance numbers. We can act like every county around us,” said Johnson, “This is a county. It’s very serious to me and if you two feel good with those numbers, [vote on it].”

According to Johnson, Gazaway’s reports don’t accurately showcase how much the county owes against what the county has in the bank. Without any real numbers to judge the county’s financial position, he can’t vote to approve the 2020 budget.

Helton proclaimed that he was “okay with [the proposed budget] and ready to vote on it.”

The decision came down to Patterson, who ultimately elected to move the 2020 budget approval to Dec. 10. He suggested the Gazaway provide “paperwork that can be looked over beforehand to alleviate Johnson’s concerns.”

Risk Management 87 Percent into Budget as of Aug. 2019

News, Police & Government
Risk Management

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?”

Points of Interest in the 2019 budget.

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.

CFO Spends 45 Minutes a Day Reading Celebrity News

Featured, News
celebrity news

Blue Ridge, Ga – Internet history showcased Fannin CFO spends 45 minutes a day using county computer for personal use, including celebrity news and job searches.

After CFO Gazaway’s entanglement in the juror Facebook selfie controversy that cost the county $7,100, lost a week of criminal court, and pushed back a child rape and aggravated assault case, she was noticeably absent from the August 13 board of commissioners’ meeting.

Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson and Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson called for an executive session, which appeared to be about Gazaway. However, that can’t be confirmed, but it did relate to personnel matters.

After exiting the executive session, Chairman Stan Helton and Johnson seemed to be upset.

The commissioners took no action concerning personnel matters during that executive session. To make a motion for personnel matters, like a dismissal, the county attorney provides the commissioners with proper wording to absolve the county of any wrongdoing. The executive session serves as a place to make these requests. Fannin County’s attorney is hired by the chairman to serve at his/her pleasure.

Gazaway’s regularly reading gossip articles and researching jobs on her work computer.

When asked about Gazaway’s absence, Helton responded that she had something else to do that night.

Helton also praised Gazaway’s ability to perform her job, “Mrs. Gazaway is a highly competent CFO. She works very hard for the county. She made a mistake like we all do from time to time, and I am ready to move forward.”

Helton did confirm that he and Gazaway had a serious conversation about her behavior on social media and ensures it will not happen again. The county didn’t add anything to Gazaway’s personnel file concerning the incident.

When reached for comment, Johnson stated, “My confidence in the CFO was at the bare minimum before the [Facebook incident]. Gazaway should not be posting to social media during work.”

Gazaway’s county computer internet history confirmed that she wasn’t using the county computer to check her social media accounts.

However, the history did show Gazaway spending an average of 35 to 45 minutes a day researching celebrity gossip articles and other finance director jobs.

Internet history pulled from multiple days established this trend for Gazaway. She arrives at work at 7 a.m. and leaves around 5 p.m. Her internet history does provide work-related searches.

However, it deviates throughout the day to celebrity news articles such as “Pink dyes daughter’s hair pink in support of Jessica Simpson,” “Which celebrity children look like their parents,” or “Brie Larson’s Love Life.”

When asked if regularly researching entertainment articles was appropriate for employees during the workday, Helton said it was not appropriate.

“[Gazaway] is here at 7 a.m. or earlier until 5 p.m. and is entitled to breaks. I am sure that she will be more careful in the future,” stated Helton.

As for the job searches, Helton explained that Gazaway sometimes likes to research other CFO positions and show the Chairman the pay scale to joke with him about her salary.

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