BLUE RIDGE, GA – What should have been a discussion about the proposed budget of the Tax Assessor’s office turned into confrontation as the department’s board members chose to confront Fannin County’s Board of Commissioners.
The Board of Commissioners held an all day budget workshop on Wednesday, September 20th. Department Heads proposed their office’s budgets for 2018 and worked with Commissioners for possible amendments.
The Tax Assessors Department was the last scheduled for the day. Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran was unable to attend. However, in her place was representative Darlene Ledford, Assessor Janie Bearden, and Chairman Lane Bishop.
The discussion began as all the others with the department working along with Commissioners to assess each line item and see where cuts could possibly be made. The first item in question was the budget for department education.
With the line item asking for $46,000, Stan Helton wanted to clarify where that money would be spent stating, “Gilmer is nowhere near that.”
With Cochran not present to answer, Helton just asked that notes be made so that a discussion with the department head could happen at a later date.
There was also a question as to the amount proposed for Operation Supplies. The new proposed budget asked for $52,000. That is a $30,000 increase from the current budget. Ledford and Bishop speculated that the cost could include a new vehicle.
Post Two Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee questioned, “Are you talking about another one?”
This led to an exchange where Chairman Bishop exclaimed, “Another one? You haven’t given us one in two years.”
Sosebee replied, “You have a fleet of them sitting out there.”
The two Tax Assessor board members that were present explained that they felt that the current vehicles were unreliable, claiming that only two of the six were operational, and that three were currently at the county shop for repairs.
Bishop complained that the turnaround time to get a vehicle repaired was too long. Backed by Assessor Bearden, Bishop stated that three vehicles had been at the shop for weeks, and wanted to know if they could seek a private vendor for maintenance on their vehicles.
Sosebee and Helton were surprised to hear this, stating they had not been previously made aware. Helton asked that they give him specifics on the vehicles, when they were dropped off, and he would look into it immediately.
Helton took this time to explain his reason as to why two more board members had been appointed to the Board of Tax Assessors. He felt that this board was very important as it has the responsibility of assigning approximately $3 billion within the county.
He felt that if one or two members of the original three member board were no longer able to fulfill their duties it would leave a “huge hole to fill and that puts the county at risk.”
Assessor Janie Bearden confronted Helton saying that they weren’t upset with the new board appointees, but with the manner in which it was handled. She felt that Helton should have spoke with them at one of their board meetings before making the appointments.
Helton explained, “I don’t come there to make comments or to get things out of line. I come there to listen and learn. And I’m sorry if you don’t like the way I made that decision. I made it, and I would do it again.”
This statement caused conversation to shift with Bishop focusing on Helton’s comparison of Fannin County’s Tax Assessor Department with that of surrounding counties. Bishop said, “I, as acting chairman, right now, I would welcome any kind of comments you’ve got.”
Bishop went on, “Just like this budget, we cut this thing to the bones trying to save the county money.”
Helton listed the budgets for some of our surrounding counties. Gilmer County’s budget being $812,000. He then asked why Fannin County’s was currently $1,019,581.
Bishop replied that the comparison needed to be apples to apples, and Helton explained that Gilmer has 29,000 parcels. Fannin County has 26,000. Gilmer is also dealing with a consent from the state, which Fannin just overcame. Helton said, “That is definitely an apples to apples comparison.”
Helton pointed out that the new proposed budget of the department in Fannin County was approximately $1,095,000, a $76,000 increase from the 2017 budget.
The Commissioners did follow through on their promise to look into the situation of vehicles not being repaired in a timely manner. Both Zach Ratcliff of the County Roads Department and Dawn Cochran, Chief Appraiser, confirmed that the vehicles had been repaired and returned about a week prior to the meeting.
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