Citizens defend Tax Assessors

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – There was no shortage of comments as citizens filled the public commentary portion at the Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting to express their outrage over the recent handling of Chief Tax assessor Dawn Cochran.

After reading about the exchange between county commissioners and Cochran in local media, citizens of Fannin County spoke in defense of the Tax Assessors department.

Frank Moore of the Aska Road area was first to speak. Moore, an attorney, works on property tax appeals and has firsthand experience dealing with the Tax Assessors department and Cochran herself: “That is a very professional office.”

Appalled by the questioning of Cochran’s education by Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton, Moore expressed his opinion, “Whoever was asking that question makes me wonder where’s your MBA? Where’s their high degree of education that qualifies them to do anything?”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Tax Assessors, Chief Appraiser, Dawn Cochran, GMASS, Georgia Mass Apprassial Solutions and Services, Public Commentary, Education, Frank Moore, Lane Bishop, Sonia Smith, Sandra Daugherty, Ralph Garner, Marcella Olsteen

Fannin County citizen Frank Moore spoke of his outrage over the recent handling of Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran.

Moore also expressed concerns over recent Board of Assessors (BOA) appointment Angelina Powell.

“And who’s the person that would actually put Angelina Powell on the Board of Assessors instead of that man right there?” Moore asked motioning to former BOA Chairman Lane Bishop.

At this point Helton put a stop to Moore’s questioning stating that Moore’s actions were boarding a personal attack, “We’re not here to criticize citizens like that. That’s out of line, so let’s move forward. Criticize me if you wish.”

“If anything I’m attacking the board for making that decision,” Moore replied to Helton, “I don’t know who made that decision, but it was a foolish decision.”

Others who spoke were just as angered as Moore over the questioning of Cochran’s education.

A former board member of the BOA, Sonia Smith, asked, “It’s not that you need an education to ask a question is it?” adding, “I believe her questions were educated. She wanted an answer to her question.”

Smith also stated that the commissioners’ behavior toward an employee could be very discouraging for other personnel who might now be intimidated to ask a question.

Sandra Daugherty of Sugarcreek agreed with Smith’s perceptions of the BOC possibly making it difficult for county employees to come to them with questions.

“To be clear everyone, I’m addressing you, Mr. Helton, and you, Mr. Johnson (Post 1 Commissioner), both as a human being and as a public official, you should both be ashamed of yourselves. Not only do you owe Dawn Cochran an apology, but you owe everyone sitting here that night an apology.”

Former BOA Chairman Lane Bishop was present to defend Cochran having worked with her for several years: “Dawn Cochran doesn’t have a formal degree as you so crudely pointed out, but she does have a PhD. It’s in honesty.”

Bishop accused the BOC of having a vendetta against the Tax Assessors department. Speaking directly to Chairman Helton, Lane stated, “You’re real vendetta against the Tax Assessors office is because you can’t control it.”

Lane elaborated further, “Also the fact, the new board three years ago fired Steve Stanley, your’s (Helton) and Larry Joe Sosebee’s friend. The good ol’ boy syndrome lives in Fannin County.”

“Maybe it’s time for the voters of Fannin County to consider a recall petition on you,” Bishop concluded his time, “a class action lawsuit and call the department of revenue on all three of our commissioners.”

Blue Ridge resident Ralph Garner reasoned, “Why tarnish the legacy of good that you (BOC) are doing with ugly behavior like that? A prolonged repetitious rant is out of order most any time.”

Marcella O’Steen of Epworth approached the matter on a more personal level stating that Dawn is someone’s mother, daughter and wife. O’Steen was unable to hold back anger as she stated of the situation: “If I were her (Cochran) husband, I would kick your a**!”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Tax Assessors, Chief Appraiser, Dawn Cochran, GMASS, Georgia Mass Apprassial Solutions and Services, Public Commentary, Education, Frank Moore, Lane Bishop, Sonia Smith, Sandra Daugherty, Ralph Garner, Marcella Olsteen

Former BOA Chairman Lane Bishop accused commissioners of still using the “good ol’ boy” system.

After agreeing to discontinue the profanity, O’Steen was allowed to continue speaking. Unlike many of the other speakers who were focused solely on Helton and Fannin County Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson, O’Steen also accused Fannin County Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee of negative behavior in the meeting.

Sosebee who had previously complimented the Tax Assessors department during the June 12 meeting failed to take action making him just as guilty according to O’Steen: “Out of three men up here not one of you came to her defense.”

While people certainly expressed their outrage over the perceived treatment of Cochran, many were also displeased with the option that was presented of outsourcing some of the of the workload of the Tax Assessors office.

It was proposed at the June 12 BOC meeting to look into a contract with Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS). In this contract, GMASS offers to appraise a third of the counties parcels each year for three years. This would keep the county in compliance with Georgia state standards.

The GMASS contract would cost taxpayers a total of $784,000 for three years of service. Chairman Helton pointed out that Fannin County’s total yearly budget for the Tax Assessors department is far more than surrounding counties, and this contract could be a way to alleviate some of the financial burden on the taxpayers of the county.

Helton clarified that he was not advocating to completely replace the tax assessors department: “You always need to have some local involvement and people there.”

“What they’re (tax assessors) not telling everyone, is they already are using this company(GMASS),” Johnson said of the proposed contract.

Chief Assessor Dawn Cochran did confirm that she had planned on asking for help in 2019 with approximately 13,000 parcels.

“No one voted to do it,” Johnson said explaining the proposed contract,”I’m all about saving the taxpayers money, but we’ve got a lot of research to do.”

“I have not had to raise the mileage. I didn’t get elected to look at the tax assessors. I got elected to save taxpayers money,” Johnson concluded his feeling about the public commentary.

Helton expressed a similar view to Johnson: “Fannin County taxpayers are contributing almost $1 million a year to fund our Tax assessors office. This is the highest budget in 10 Northeast Georgia counties, including Cherokee, NC. I think the citizens have a right to expect their Chairman to ask tough questions instead of worrying about my bedside manner.”

 

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Bearden is new assessors chairperson, Junnier vice chairman

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Assessors (BOA) took on a slightly different look Friday, March 23, at their monthly meeting.

The BOA opened the meeting by welcoming local business owner Angelina Powell to the board. At the Feb. 27 Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting, Powell was nominated by BOC Chairman Stan Helton and appointed unanimously by the BOC to succeed former BOA Chairman Lane Bishop, whose seat on the BOA expired Feb. 28.

Next, the floor was opened for nominations for chairperson of the BOA, and board member Troy Junnier nominated Janie Bearden with a second coming from board member Anthony Holloway. Bearden was approved unanimously to serve as chairperson of the BOA. Board member Mark Henson was not present at the meeting.

Near the end of the meeting, Bearden put forth the idea of electing a vice chairperson to serve on the board and nominated Junnier for this position. Junnier was approved unanimously as vice chairman. To this, Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran explained Bearden had previously consulted with County Attorney Lynn Doss about the prospect of adding a vice chair position on the board and, according to Cochran, Doss confirmed there were no legal obstacles to hinder such a move.

Former Chairman Bishop delivered on his word given at the Feb. 27 BOA called meeting to attend future tax assessors meetings as a member of the public. After sitting through a three-hour meeting, Bishop made a brief statement to the BOA in the public commentary portion of the meeting and gave a typed letter to each member of the board as well as members of the media.

“I do appreciate this board,” Bishop stated. “I really do, but you all have got an awesome job, more than you may think. I think you are beginning to see this is pretty complex and convoluted sometimes. But you all use your good common sense, and you don’t let somebody else tell you how to vote, please.”

In his letter to the board members, Bishop put forth three main petitions to the BOA:

  • “Please finish the reassessment of the remaining 10,000 parcels that has not been done. The other taxpayers are not being treated fairly if this is not done;
  • “Please do not allow this department to go back to the ‘good old boys’ state we found it in years ago; (and)
  •  “The Board of Commissioners have no authority over this department even though they do control the budget as I was reminded of many times.”

Concerning the budget, Cochran presented the board with a brief budget review for this year. Cochran stated thus far the actual BOA budget is in line but did point out a $40,000 expenditure listed under the capital outlay equipment line item. This amount is $25,000 over the $15,000 budgeted amount for this line item. According to Cochran, the amount accounts for the February purchases of two 2016 Ford Escapes at $20,000 each. Cochran said she had discussed the line item amount with county Finance Director Robin Gazaway recently.

“(Gazaway) didn’t seem to think it would be a problem. She would explain to the auditors that these are two vehicles at $20,000 a piece,” Cochran explained.

The maps and aerial line item also shows an over-budget amount, standing at $30,524.41. Only $24,000 is budgeted for maps and aerial; however, the amount covers this year’s Pictometry LiDAR mapping project of the county, and the BOA is expected to receive compensation from other county departments as well as municipalities throughout the county that will be benefiting from the mapping.

One of those county departments that participated in the Pictometry mapping project contract was the E-911 department. Cochran explained a slight adjustment to that contract needed to be amended and approved by the BOA as E-911 cannot use the format produced by the project and Pictometry will have to produce a different type of format for the E-911 department to use. The amended contract was approved unanimously.

The board also approved a $1,400 invoice from forester Baker Allen, a registered forester who was recently contracted by the BOA to complete the 2018 timber valuation. According to Cochran, Allen worked a total of 70 hours at $20 an hour during the timber valuation.

“Counties are paying thousands to have this done,” Cochran added. “(This is) saving Fannin County a lot of money.”

A $3,000 invoice for uniforms was also approved by the BOA. Cochran explained the department annually budgets $3,000 for uniforms for its employees.

The board also approved a contract with Harris Govern to print and mail the 2018 notice of assessments (NOAs) to county property owners at the rate of 52 cents per NOA. Cochran estimated this year there will be around 31,600 NOAs, which will cost the BOA approximately $16,400 for the service from Harris Govern. The tax assessors department has attempted to complete the task of printing and mailing the NOAs itself in years past, but given the cost of paper, ink and man hours, Cochran said, “This (service) is very beneficial for our county.”

The BOA approved an update from the state for Kelley Blue Book values to be uploaded into the WinGap computer-assisted appraisal program for motor vehicle data. Cochran explained this data assists the board in making decisions for vehicle appeals that come before the board from owners.

 

 

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Additional grant pursued for Horseshoe Bend Park

Community, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Fannin County Parks and Recreation Director Eddie O’Neal sought approval from the Board of Commissioners (BOC) at the Feb. 27 meeting to apply for a grant in hopes improving Horseshoe Bend Park.

“We would like to get approval to approach the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC),” O’Neal appealed to the board.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Parks and Recreation, Eddie O'Neal , Board of Commissioners, Chairman Stan Helton, Post 1 Commissioner, Earl Johnson, Post 2 Commissioner, Larry Joe Sosebee, Horseshoe Bend Park, Appalachian Regional Commission, Recreational Trail Grant, Northwest Regional Commission, Tamen Park, mowing contract, Nichole Potzauf, Executive Director of Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association, BRMAA, Youth Art Month, University of North Georgia, Appalachian Studies Program, Blue Ridge Scholars, Board of Assessors, Angelina Powell, Lane Bishop, Fannin County Emergency Management Agency, EMA, Robert Graham, Fannin County Finance Director, Robin Gazaway

A view of the Toccoa River from Horseshoe Bend Park.

This grant is in addition to a state-funded Recreational Trail Grant that the county applied for in 2017. The state-funded grant would provide Fannin County with up to $200,000 and the county would be responsible for 20 percent of the funding ($40,000).

The additional grant would be federally funded and provide Fannin County with up to $300,000. The county would be responsible for 30 percent of this funding ($90,000).

Commission Chairman Stan Helton explained how the information of this new grant came about: “The folks at the Northwest Regional Commission, which are the folks that are conduit for the Recreational Trail Grant called me sometime ago.”

“They felt that the odds (of receiving the ARC grant) were equal to or better (than that of getting the Recreational Trail Grant),” Helton added.

Helton explained that the county would not have to take both grants if both were awarded, but applying for the two grants would improve the county’s odds of getting funding for projects at Horseshoe Bend Park.

The board unanimously voted in favor of applying for this additional grant.

O’Neal updated the BOC on news from the Recreation Department: “Our registration for spring sports is up about 8 percent.”

This increase in registration seems to be a steady pattern with the Recreation Department showing an increase in both 2016 and 2017.

The BOC was presented with bids for 2018 mowing contracts. These contracts include mowing and restroom upkeep for Horseshoe Bend and Tammen parks.

There was a total of four bids presented, with $2,200 per month being the high bid and $1,800 per month being the low bid.

O’Neal stated, “I’m fine with the lowest bid. I think if we do that, it should be a 30-day trial.”

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee had reservations about going with the lowest bidder: “This last mowing season, I had more complaints come through my door.”

Sosebee acknowledged that when the company who submitted the highest bid had the county’s contract he received little to no complaints.

“When you don’t hear people complaining, you know the work is good,” Sosebee added to his thoughts.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson recommended tabling the vote for the mowing contract until the companies submitting the bids could be further researched.

Helton recused himself from discussion due to having on-going business with one of the bidders, and both post commissioners agreed to discuss the contracts at a later date.

Nichole Potzauf, executive director of Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association (BRMAA), spoke of happenings at the Art Center.

In 2017, approximately 41,000 guests enjoyed the exhibits and classes at the Art Center, and it is estimated the BRMAA had an economic impact of $618,000 in our area and $1.2 million for our region.

Currently, the Art Center is hosting Youth Art Month. Potzauf explained, “(Youth Art Month) is an annual exhibit that we host to celebrate our emerging artists. So, all of Fannin County Schools participate, as well as home school children.”

Potzauf also noted that this year Copper Basin schools are participating in the program.

The BRMAA hosts several fundraising events throughout the year, and Potzauf shared that through fundraising efforts “we were able to give $4,000 in youth scholarships to children in our area to obtain art classes and art education.”

“We’ve partnered with UNG (University of North Georgia) to do a lunch and learn series,” Potzauf spoke of what is new for BRMAA this year.

This partnering is with the UNG Appalachian Studies Program and English Department. The first Lunch and Learn will take place April 18 and will be hosted by Blue Ridge Scholars of UNG.

The first in this series will be “an artistic presentation of the poverty and resilience of the Blue Ridge mountains and our area,” according to Potzauf.

A new appointment to the Board of Assessors took place, with Helton recommending Angelina Powell to this board in place of current board member Lane Bishop.

This recommendation was met with no discussion by the post commissioners, and the board unanimously voted for Powell to receive this appointment. Powell will serve a four-year term beginning March 1, 2018.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Parks and Recreation, Eddie O'Neal , Board of Commissioners, Chairman Stan Helton, Post 1 Commissioner, Earl Johnson, Post 2 Commissioner, Larry Joe Sosebee, Horseshoe Bend Park, Appalachian Regional Commission, Recreational Trail Grant, Northwest Regional Commission, Tamen Park, mowing contract, Nichole Potzauf, Executive Director of Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association, BRMAA, Youth Art Month, University of North Georgia, Appalachian Studies Program, Blue Ridge Scholars, Board of Assessors, Angelina Powell, Lane Bishop, Fannin County Emergency Management Agency, EMA, Robert Graham, Fannin County Finance Director, Robin Gazaway

Points of interest from Fannin County’s January budget review.

Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham was present to discuss the progress of the new fire station and E-911 center that is currently in the construction stage.

Graham stated that the structural portion of the project was running on time and on budget and was about a third of the way complete. Graham expects completion of this project in May or June of this year.

Fannin County Finance Director Robin Gazaway reported a summary of the county’s expenses and revenues for the month of January. Being just 8 percent into the county budget, the tax assessor’s office is showing a budget deficit.

Gazaway explained that this was expected and should even out over the next couple of months: “We had budgeted for maps and that was all paid upfront. There will be some revenues from the cities that will go against that.”

So far in 2018, the county is $775,000 under budget.

Discussion of funding for the new Fire Station 1/E-911 center was discussed during this portion of the meeting.

“We knew we would have to borrow some funds,” Helton said of the financing. “We felt that we could finance out of pocket about 75 percent.”

The other 25 percent of funding, ranging from $600,000 to $1.2 million, is currently being studied by Gazaway. While nothing has been finalized, Gazaway said that she had been speaking with bond companies for funding.

Johnson, alerted by the mention of financing through bonds, asked to speak with Gazaway immediately regarding the situation.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Parks and Recreation, Eddie O'Neal , Board of Commissioners, Chairman Stan Helton, Post 1 Commissioner, Earl Johnson, Post 2 Commissioner, Larry Joe Sosebee, Horseshoe Bend Park, Appalachian Regional Commission, Recreational Trail Grant, Northwest Regional Commission, Tamen Park, mowing contract, Nichole Potzauf, Executive Director of Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association, BRMAA, Youth Art Month, University of North Georgia, Appalachian Studies Program, Blue Ridge Scholars, Board of Assessors, Angelina Powell, Lane Bishop, Fannin County Emergency Management Agency, EMA, Robert Graham, Fannin County Finance Director, Robin Gazaway

Epworth resident Noah Sims expresses concerns over courthouse security.

“I’m not in favor of getting a bond,” Johnson expressed, stern in his stance.

Johnson explained it is situations like this where he wants to see better communication taking place with the post commissioners.

Public commentary brought about questions of safety at the Fannin County Courthouse.

Epworth resident Noah Sims addressed the board on what he felt were breaches in security.

Making it clear the he was not attacking our local law enforcement, Sims addressed the security measures in place at the courthouse entrance: “I am up here as a concerned citizen. You all do not have any security in the building. Zero. It’s breached.”

Sims noted that employees often are waved through without being scanned: “When you let one person not get checked you have zero security.”

Sims would like to see policy and procedure followed for all persons entering the building without exception.

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Natalie Kissel

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Board of Assessors again questions 2018 budget

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Assessors (BOA) discussed the department’s proposed 2018 budget one last time at their regular meeting Tuesday, Dec. 12, ahead of the final adoption of the entire county budget later that evening during the Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting.

At a Nov. 29 called meeting of the assessors, the assessors agreed to speak individually with BOC Chairman Stan Helton and post commissioners Earl Johnson and Larry Joe Sosebee about potential cuts by the BOC to the assessors requested 2018 budget.

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran reported to the Board of Assessors Tuesday those meetings did take place since the Nov. 29 called meeting and that she had a chance to explain her concerns to the BOC.

“Both post commissioners were willing to review these line items (of the budget) with myself, and after both meetings, the post commissioners stated that they would get with (County Finance Director) Robin Gazaway and go from there,” Cochran told the assessors.

Cochran further explained she along with Board of Assessors Chairman Lane Bishop met with Helton and Gazaway about the proposed budget again Dec. 11.

“That meeting resulted in Mr. Helton stating that his position was to leave the budget just as was recommended (by the BOC) and that if the Board of Assessors run into any issues with their budget in 2018 that they can come back to the Board of Commissioners at that time and revisit the budget needs,” Cochran continued.

As in the Nov. 29 assessors meeting, Bishop again brought up the need for an additional vehicle to be added to the assessors fleet and the additional 10,000 parcels yet to be assessed by the department across the county. The assessors requested $40,000 in capital outlay for 2018, $22,000 of which was hoped to be used to purchase another vehicle. The commissioners recommended amount for this line item was $15,000.

“We are being unfair to the rest of the taxpayers of Fannin County that have gone through these appeals and that we’ve gone out to visit … This other 10,000 – they’re going to (be appraised). We’re going to do it,” Bishop stated.

To this, Cochran agreed that assessing the remaining 10,000 parcels would not only add to the county tax digest but also provide uniform treatment to all county taxpayers.

Assessor Anthony Holloway inquired about the cut in capital outlay and the $21,000 cut in education to the department from the requested amount and asked, “So, the cuts that they (BOC) have proposed … how do you deal with that?”

“Right now, I don’t know how we’re going to handle it,” Cochran replied.

After this, Bishop stated he was told by the BOC to “make do with you’ve got. That’s exactly what we were told … That’s sort of a flippant kind of answer.”

The final approved budget for the Board of Assessors for 2018, as approved by the commissioners, is $848,265. The assessors requested budget was $977,370.

Also, during the assessors meeting, Cochran presented a draft of the department’s revised locked gate/access denied policy for approval by the Board, but after Bishop inquired whether the draft had been forwarded to County Attorney Lynn Doss for review, Cochran explained the policy was not yet given to Doss. The Board then tabled the approval of the policy so as to give Doss a chance to review it and decided to revisit the policy again afterwards.

The draft of the proposed policy contains four steps. Once approved, upon first visit to a parcel, a door knocker complete with date, appraiser and reason for the visit would be hung at the gate of the parcel. After that, a phone call to the legal owner of the property would be made, if possible. If no contact can be made at that point, a certified letter would be mailed to the property owner again requesting access. Finally, if the department still does not receive a response, the assessors would 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.

The Board also approved the 2017 pre-bill digest for mobile homes and approved that digest’s upload to Harris Govern, the computer software vendor of the Fannin County Tax Commissioners office. According the information presented by Cochran to the assessors, the total count of mobile homes in Fannin is 1,193 for a total fair market value of $13,346,429.

Approval of upload and mailing of the 2018 personal property reporting forms was given by the assessors. Cochran explained the reporting forms are sent out to business owners or owners of boats or airplanes at the end of each year, and that these taxpayers are responsible for returning the forms to the assessors office. According to Cochran, the assessors office utilizes an independent vendor to print and mail out the forms to taxpayers, and the cost of using the vendor will be $2,996 for 2018, which is the same amount as in 2017.

BOA Chairman Bishop also addressed the recent public hearing on the potential school tax exemption for seniors held Nov. 16 in the jury assembly room of the Fannin County Courthouse, at which Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston and state Senator Steve Gooch heard from opponents and supporters of the potential exemption. Bishop explained there were already three types of tax breaks in place for senior taxpayers based on age and income qualifications of which he feared taxpayers are unaware. The chairman directed Cochran to draft a press release to give to the media detailing the three avenues of tax relief already available to seniors.

The assessors approved a number of invoices, one of which was $1,739.97 for the purchase orders of three new iPad Pros. Cochran stated one of the new iPads would be added to the department’s inventory while the other two would replace existing iPads. Also, protective cases for the iPads were purchased for $292. Additionally, approval was made for the final payment of $13,297.50 for 2017 to Data Cloud for technical and maintenance support for the handheld iPads used by field appraisers.

The department also approved an expenditure of $9,271.50 for upgrades to the Data Cloud system, advanced mapping and six new laser distance measurers. The Leica Disto E7500i 650-foot laser measurers, Cochran said, would be an upgrade for the department from the traditional 200-foot tape measures currently be used by field appraisers. The expenditure will come from the 2017 tax assessors capital outlay fund.

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Fannin Assessors address potential budget cut for 2018

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Assessors held a special called meeting Monday, Nov. 27, to discuss the department’s projected budget for 2018.

Chairman Lane Bishop opened the meeting by telling the board, “I wish that we were not even having this meeting.” Bishop continued to inform the other members that, to his understanding, the Board of Commissioners had reduced next year’s projected assessors’ budget “a considerable amount” in comparison to the requested 2018 budget.

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran presented the board with information comparing the assessors requested amount and the commissioners recommended amount. According to Cochran, the total requested budget for 2018 was $864,900 while the commissioners recommended amount reduced the pending budget by $126,045. Cochran explained the most significant projected reductions include a $40,005 cut in salaries, a $21,000 cut in education and training, a $27,500 cut in operation supplies and a $25,000 cut in capital outlay equipment.

Board members along with Cochran were concerned about the cut in education and training. Cochran stressed the importance of continuing the education of field appraisers in order to stay in accordance with Georgia Department of Revenue guidelines and avoid another future consent order and fines from the state.

“So that’s going to be cutting the appraisers back to where they can’t actually do what we’ve been requested of by the Department of Revenue through our performance review,” Cochran told board members. “It’s not going to be like we’ve been doing and trying to stay up (to date) on the new laws and sending each person to school once a year.”

Concerning the potential cut in operation supplies, Cochran explained County Finance Director Robin Gazaway had previously asked Cochran to move an $18,000 amount from the capital outlay line item to operation supplies for audit compliance. Cochran questioned the commissioners’ knowledge of the $18,000 line item shift given their recommended amount of $24,500 for operation supplies.

The chief appraiser also mentioned the department requested $40,000 for capital outlay equipment, which included $22,000 for the purchase of a used vehicle to add to the tax assessors’ fleet and $18,000 for revaluation of 12,000 rural land parcels, which would be contracted out to a private company. The commissioners recommended amount for the capital outlay line item is $15,000.

Bishop also pointed out the assessors office still has to appraise over 10,000 parcels throughout the county despite the fact that the consent order the department had been under from the state Department of Revenue had been recently lifted. Of these 10,000 parcels yet to be appraised, Board Member Troy Junnier later explained the appraisal updates would add to the tax digest for the county and potentially add further revenue.

“And we’ve been trying to get a vehicle out of the Board (of Commissioners) for two years, and we haven’t been able to get one yet,” Bishop stated.

Regarding the previous consent order, Board Member Mark Henson asked Cochran, “One of the reasons we were under the consent order was because of the ratio and uniformity. Was that because this office was underfunded in the past?” To this, Cochran affirmed that was true.

“And yet it cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars (in fines and fees from the state),” Henson added.

After 45 minutes of discussion, the board all agreed they needed to talk, in some form, to the BOC, or at least Chairman Stan Helton, to provide further information concerning department needs and then asked Cochran to see if Helton was available to speak with the Board of Assessors in the meeting. Helton joined the board members a few minutes later.

Helton then fielded questions and comments from Cochran and the board. “If we don’t have what this office needs to function on a daily basis, we might get by with it next year, but the following year or possibly the next one you’re going to get hit with a (large) fine again and the state will not back off because we’ve already been warned,”Junnier told Helton, referring to the potential of another consent order and further fines from the Department of Revenue.

The commission chairman responded by notifying Junnier that expenditures to date for 2017 have been under budget so far. When asked about the possibility of purchasing another vehicle to add to the fleet or replace aging vehicles, Helton explained the BOC would have to approve such an expenditure. He also stated the current fleet of vehicles had not been thoroughly inspected as of yet to completely determine whether or not any of the vehicles needed to be replaced.

After Bishop pointed out the 10,000 parcels still needing to be reappraised by the department, Helton responded by saying, “(The BOC has) looked at this budget very closely, and when you look at what you’ve actually spent for this year, I don’t think what’s been recommended is out of line at all.”

Helton also explained the Board of Assessors could address the full BOC at the Tuesday, Nov. 28, budget public hearing before the regularly scheduled commissioners meeting or at the Dec. 12 BOC meeting where the 2018 county budget is expected to be approved. The assessors agreed they would prefer to speak to the commissioners, as well as Finance Director Gazaway, individually sometime in the next two weeks rather than at a public hearing.

Later, the commission chairman stated the county budget has seen a 30 percent overall increase since 2015. “And there was no tax increase,” Helton continued. “This is a painful process for everybody … That kind of spending is unsustainable, and (the BOC has) to address that this year to try to slow that down … I’m very concerned with where we’re headed with these expenses. So, if you feel like you’re being picked on – I’m sorry about that – there are a lot of people right now (in other departments) that feel that way.”

The meeting ended with the Board of Assessors agreeing to have two members and Cochran to meet individually again with Helton as well as Gazaway and also with Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson and Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee later this week or early next week.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Tax Assessors Confront County Commissioners

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Fannin Court House

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.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Stan Helton, Larry Joe Sosebee, Tax Assessor, Lane Bishop, Janie Bearden

Helton addresses the Tax Assessors.

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.

 

 

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Immorality and Fair Property Assessment in Fannin County

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Fannin County Board of Assessors – Nathan Henson, Janie Bearden and Lane Bishop

It is “immoral if I oppose him” stated the letter read by Fannin County Chief Tax Appraiser Dawn Cochran at the August 2nd Board of Assessors meeting.  Cochran did not say if this was from the property owner off Lower Star Creek  Road whose property tax went from $0 in 2015 to $448,00 in 2016 or the Old Toccoa Road property that went from $912,579  to $2,021,739 or the property which went from $53,000 to over $2 million.

Cochran did say that she advised the owner questioning her morality on how to establish that the property was unbuildable due to placement of a septic tank.  But, the owner never followed up with a certificate from the Fannin County Health Department that states a septic tank cannot be put on the property.

“People are shocked that they have to pay taxes.  If everyone pays their fair share, we can keep rolling the millage rate back” said Lane Bishop, Chairman of the Board of Tax Assessors for Fannin County.

The property owners described above are a few of the 227 residential property owners who are appealing their 2016 assessments.  According to Bishop, approximately half of the property owners seeking assessment appeals have properties on Lake Blue Ridge.  “This is the highest-priced property in Fannin County,” said Bishop, “and it hasn’t been assessed in 14 years.”  Bishop admitted that the Tax Assessors office in the past has had less than acceptable due-diligence in bringing the lake properties up to fair market value.

The outlook for successful assessment appeals is not rosy.  Out of the more than 27,000 properties that Fannin County reassessed, only 227 chose to appeal, which is less than 1% of the total.  The Board of Assessors wins the great majority of the assessment appeals that are brought before the Board of Equalization.

The Board of Equalization will begin hearings in early October.  The Board of Equalization rules on assessment appeals, but the Board of Equalization has no contact with Board of Tax Assessors.

Cochran also shared the results of the state accuracy audit.  Fannin received 36.22 out of a perfect score of 40.  This represents a steady upward increase in the county’s accuracy from 33.86 in 2011. Currently, the Tax Assessors office is under a Georgia’s Department of Revenue mandate that Fannin County rectify its property tax digest.  We still have work to do, but we are moving in a positive direction said Cochran.

 

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Lynn Doss and Lane Bishop Discuss Assessors’ Budget

Police & Government

Lane Bishop, Chairman of Board of Assessors for Fannin County

 

Lane Bishop, Chairman of the Board of Assessors, stood before the Board of Commissioners at the March 8th meeting to clarify the presentation given by Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran at the previous Board of Commissioners meeting. At that meeting, Ms. Cochran gave a lengthy list of examples of mechanical failures of cars the Assessors’ office uses during its daily work are putting Assessors’ safety at risk and impeding the possibility to complete tax digest mandate from the state.  Towards the end of her presentation, Ms. Cochran told the Commissioners that the Board of Assessors had bought a car and was seeking bids for another used vehicle. Post Commissioner 1 Earl Johnson, strenuously questioned the Tax Assessors office about purchasing a new vehicle and acquiring bids for another car without going through the Board of Commissioners.  This subject also prompted an across room debate between Mr. Johnson and Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss as to the budget decisions that the legally semi-independent Assessors office is allowed to make on its own.  Ms. Doss stated from her seat among the general public that she was searching on-line and texting colleagues at that very moment to clarify the extent of budget independence of a Tax Assessors office in Georgia.  Mr. Johnson also asked when she could let the Board of Commissioners know the results of her research.

During his March 8th presentation, Mr. Bishop stated to the Commissioners and public that as Chairman of the Board of Tax Assessors, he had asked Ms. Cochran to describe the current dangerous condition of the cars to the Commissioners.  He went on to say that the Board of Assessors has decided to follow whatever budget protocols the Commission has set up, including sending all invoices over $4,500 to be approved by the Board of Commissioners, even though this is not legally required due to the semi-independent status of the Tax Assessors office.  Mr. Bishop also thanked Commission Chairman Bill Simonds for graciously loaning a fire and rescue squad vehicle to the Tax Assessors office until another car can be purchased and the mechanical problems of other cars can be fixed.  Mr. Simonds also told Mr. Bishop to bring the cars one by one to the county garage to be fixed and to let him (Mr. Simonds) know when the cars are there so that he can oversee their repairs.  Mr. Johnson made it known to the public that the County’s priority is with the safety of its employees.  In fact, during the March 8th meeting, the Commissioners approved purchase of a used car for the Assessors office.

Later that week, FetchYourNews.com asked Mr. Bishop about his presentation in front of the Commissioners. Mr. Bishop said that there is a very legitimate reason why the Tax Assessors functions as a semi-independent body.  They are a stage in the checks and balance system which is essential to American Constitutional ideals, i.e. no part of the government, local, state or national, should acquire greater power over another.  In the case of Tax Assessor offices, having semi-independence ensures that elected officials cannot skew taxes to benefit themselves.  The Board of Commissioners does have a legal responsibility to provide the Tax Assessors with the necessary supplies, including vehicles, to complete their job.  FetchYourNews.com also asked who Ms. Doss had consulted about budget independence of the Tax Assessors office and if the information was relayed to the Board of Commissioners.  Mr. Bishop said that he didn’t want to misspeak and requested that we ask Ms. Doss for that information.

Remember that Ms. Doss had told the entire February 23rd meeting, Commissioners and public, that she was looking for clarification during Mr. Johnson’s questions about the level of independence of the Tax Assessors. Also, Mr. Bishop, Chair of the Board of Assessors asked FetchYourNews.com to ask Ms. Doss herself about whom she had contacted so that the information is correct. FetchYourNews.com contacted Ms. Doss twice in person, once through phone and once through email.  At the first contact, Ms. Doss said she had spoken to the Georgia Department of Revenue and others but did not elaborate about who she had spoken to.  At the second encounter no information was given.  The phone call was not returned.  The email, though, was answered with the following.

As to the question of who she looked to for legal advice about the extent of Tax Assessors’ independent authority in purchases, Ms. Doss replied, “The specifics of who I might have spoken with or what research I do is attorney work product and is not subject to open records.”  As to the question of when she contacted the Commissioners with her findings, she stated, “Any legal advice that any attorney gives to his or her client is covered under attorney client-privilege and it would be improper for me to violate the attorney-client privilege.”

FetchYourNews.com also asked for an explanation of the semi-independent status of Board of Assessors in order to accurately represent the relationship between the Board of Assessors and the Board of Commissioners.  Ms. Doss said that the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia has an excellent website documenting the division of powers.  After using search terms such as board of assessors and tax assessors, no clear description of the relationship between the Board of Assessors and Board of Commissioners could be found.  The closest information is from the Vinson Institute’s Compliance Auditing in Georgia Counties and Municipalities, but it only covers the budget separation between the tax appeal administrator and the clerk of the superior court.

So, despite asking Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss and researching sources suggested by her, FetchYourNews.com is unable to accurately report how Ms. Doss obtained her information or to what degree the Board of Assessors has relinquished their semi-autonomous budget authority in order to  diplomatically reduce friction between the Tax Assessors office and the Board of Commissioners.

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