Tax Assessors are not working overtime without pay

Community, News

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.

 

 

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

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Compromise reached on Tax Assessors budget

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Talks surrounding the 2019 Tax Assessor budget continued at Tuesday evening’s Board of Commissioner (BOC) meeting, and for the time being a compromise was met between the BOC and the Board of Assessors (BOA).

Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Board of Tax Assessors, Tax Assessors, Chier Appraiser, GMASS, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Dawn Cochran, Janie Bearden, Troy Junnier, Mark Henson, Anthony Holloway, Angelina Powell, 2019 Budget, Consent, Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services

The Board of Commissioners look over numbers for the proposed Tax Assessor budget.

A tentative budget of $633,493 was passed for the Tax Assessors department in Dec. of 2018. This budget included $223,000 for a contract with Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS) to help conduct appraisals in Fannin County and to remain in compliance with the state of Georgia.

After budget cuts within the department, Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran presented a counter-proposal  to the BOC in the amount of $683,209.22, roughly a $50,000 difference from the already approved budget.

The newly requested budget from Cochran only set aside $28,800 for services provided by GMASS. This amount includes two contracts in which the BOA would like to enter with GMASS.

The first of these contracts would be for rural land revaluation. “The total for that is approximately $18,300,” Cochran said explaining the breakdown of the two contracts, “and the reason that we have to have an approximate is the timber land reviews is based off of sales.”

The second contract in the amount of $10,500 would be for mapping. Recently, the BOA voted to restructure the GIS (Geographic Information System) department, in an attempt to decrease the overall budget. This move resulted in the loss of an employee.

All three county commissioners voted in favor of entering into these two contracts with GMASS.

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton who previously stated, “I was elected to look after the taxpayers dollars and I’m not going to back off of challenging any department if I feel like we’ve got ways to improve and bring greater value to the tax paying citizens of the county. They deserve that and that’s what they’re going to get,” held true to his word.

Helton noted that the difference between the initial monies set aside for GMASS assistance and the monies needed for the two contracts would be approximately $194,200. He recommended moving that difference to the departments salaries and benefits without increasing the budget.

“We could cut the budget further,” Helton spoke of voting to amend certain line items, “or we could reapply that to other line items, which I would make the assumption that you would want to apply that back to employee benefits, salaries and social security.”

Cochran and newly appointed BOA chairman Troy Junnier argued that this amount would not be enough to cover all salaries and that further employees would have to be cut.

“We’re down from 15 to 11,” Cochran stated of the current number of employees, and went further to say that without the extra $50,000 requested two to three employees could lose employment.

“What we see here is a trend that it is improving,” speaking of the Tax Assessor’s proposed budget, Post 2 Commissioner Glenn Patterson added, “Budget cuts are always difficult and we can see there that they are trying.You can look at Ms. Cochran’s budget and she’s not spent all of her budget.”

Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Board of Tax Assessors, Tax Assessors, Chier Appraiser, GMASS, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Dawn Cochran, Janie Bearden, Troy Junnier, Mark Henson, Anthony Holloway, Angelina Powell, 2019 Budget, Consent, Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran goes over GMASS contracts approved by the BOA.

Patterson, showing favor of the amendment, spoke to his fellow commissioners and members of the BOA: “I would like for us to have a better partnership and to have a good working relationship. I feel like in supporting this amendment that it would boost the spirits and morale showing them some support.”

“I’m glad to see some of these numbers coming down,” Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson addressed Cochran and Junnier, “By all of us having a dialogue for the first time in my six years of being here, people on different sides of the coin, at this point, the Tax Assessors Board and the Board of Commissioners, at this point, have somehow or another come up with $200,000 worth of savings in a two month period.”

“I feel like we can get the job done,” Cochran made one last case for the requested amendment, “The $50,000 lies within salaries, so you have employees right now that have been up in the air on whether or not they are going to have their jobs from November to December to January, and it’s really hard to hold a group and keep a team pushing forward under the circumstances.”

After brief discussion Helton reiterated his stance, “Anyway you look at it, it’s (Tax Assessor budget) absolutely the highest than any of the other counties, and I feel very strongly that we’ve got to get that back and I’m prepared to do that.”

Patterson made a motion to approve the amended budget giving the Tax Assessors office the requested $683,209.22. This motion, however, failed due to a lack of a second.

To this, Johnson presented a compromise of approving an extra $25,000 for the budget to meet halfway: “My motion would be that, much to my disagreement with it, I would meet halfway in between, and with that we would relook at it in six months at least.”

“You’re not getting exactly what you want and I’m not getting exactly what I want, but we are meeting in the middle,” Johnson spoke of the compromise. “We’re doing our jobs.”

Johnson’s motion to meet halfway with a total budget of $658,493 was seconded by Patterson, and passed with a two to one vote, with Helton against the increase.

The Board of Assessors have called a meeting to be held Friday, Jan. 11 at 2 p.m.

 

 

 

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

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

GMASS meets with Board of Assessors to discuss future plans

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Board of Assessors (BOA) called a one-on-one meeting with Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS) to discuss the Tax Assessor’s office and the role that GMASS would potentially play in the future.

GMASS Chief Financial Officer Kristi Reese broke the ice by stating, “I feel like maybe there is some hostility between us because we don’t really know how all of this came about. We did not come into Fannin County with the intent of firing anybody or having anything of that nature done.”

Reese explained that GMASS is simply a company that can assist counties with appraisal work and in no way advocates or is responsible for the removal local office staff: “I do not want our name associated with any of that.”

Members of the BOA acknowledged that what Reese was saying was true and that they value the ongoing working relationship between GMASS and the Fannin County Tax Assessors.

“I think that the commissioners are trying to force something that they don’t truly understand every part, ” BOA board member Troy Junnier replied to Reese, “I think they are looking at just the money. They are not looking at everything that goes into that.”

Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Board of Tax Assessors, Tax Assessors, Chier Appraiser, Land Development, GMASS, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Dawn Cochran, Janie Bearden, Troy Junnier, Mark Henson, Anthony Holloway, Angelina Powell, Marie Woody, Kristi Reece, Budget, Consent, Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services

The Board of Assessors sits down with representatives from GMASS to work out future plans for the Tax Assessor’s office.

Fannin County Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran added, “I personally know what it takes to run this office. The commissioners do not know what it takes to run this office. GMASS knows what it takes to do their part but does not know what it takes to do our county with our circumstances.”

The Board of Commissioners did make initial contact with GMASS requesting a bid for appraisal and maintenance services. This contact came about due to an inability for an agreement to be made regarding the budget of the Tax Assessor’s office.

Cochran stated bluntly of the move to hire GMASS, “In order for you all to come in and do your work, people would have to lose their jobs.”

Cochran explained that when Fannin County came under consent from the state of Georgia for not complying with regulations that the county opted then to fully staff the department instead of using GMASS at that time.

Now that the county is out from under the consent order Cochran added, “The timing of this is kind of a gut punch.”

Cochran acknowledged that the department has fallen a bit behind: “The Board of Assessors choose quality over quantity. So it has taken a little longer than expected.” She reasoned that the blame fell on the amount of work it took to come into compliance and the set back of her department not having enough vehicles to do this work.

“I feel like the commissioners are going to go forward with their budget cuts regardless of what we do here,” Reece stated of the direction of the BOA’s conversation. “I understand your concerns, but we don’t have control over anything at this point. We are just here to meet with you and calm some of your fears.”

Eventually the discussion veered toward what GMASS is able to provide the county. Cochran questioned GMASS of several areas including insurance, workload, and customer service.

Through this series of questions GMASS answered that they would be responsible for field appraisals and would complete one third of the county’s parcels each year keeping in compliance with state law.

Reece answered all questions leaving little doubt that GMASS is fully capable of completing their obligation as well as working side by side with the Tax Assessor’s office.

GMASS would essentially streamline the appraisal process, and Reece explained that this is because GMASS has staff to focus in specific areas. This is in contrast to the current staffing in most counties where appraisers must multitask in several areas.

Concern was expressed about customer service being provided, to which Reece replied that a GMASS representative would be happy to meet in person or discuss via phone with any taxpayer who has a question about their appraisal.

No action was taken at this meeting by the BOA regarding staffing of the office. Discussions are expected to continue at the next meeting to be held on Thursday, Dec. 13. The BOA and Board of Commissioners previously agreed to come to terms with a budget for 2019 by the end of this year.

 

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

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

GMASS will not take over the tax assessors office

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The question was directly asked and was in turn directly answered. Will Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS) take over the Fannin County Tax Assessors Office and the answer is no.

The budget of the tax assessors office made a large increase when it was found that Fannin County was not in compliance with state law. Being under a consent order from the state of Georgia, the county raised this budget as well as the number of employees to bring the department back into compliance.

Now that Fannin County is officially out from under the order of consent, the budget of the department has been an issue for both the Board of Assessors (BOA) and the Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC).

Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Board of Tax Assessors, Tax Assessors, Chier Appraiser, Land Development, GMASS, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Dawn Cochran, Janie Bearden, Troy Junnier, Mark Henson, Anthony Holloway, Angelina Powell, Marie Woody, Kristi Reece, Budget, Consent

GMASS has currently worked with over 80 counties in the state of Georgia.

What has been a back and forth match between the BOA and the BOC came to head with a special called meeting held on Monday, Nov. 19. This public meeting was an opportunity for the two boards to sit down with each and with representatives from GMASS to discuss and move forward with a solution.

The possibility of GMASS working with the county was initially proposed in June of this year, and while it does have the potential to save Fannin County taxpayers several hundred thousands of dollars, it was met with opposition as this would mean a downsize of the tax assessors office.

Tensions were high in the room due to the nature of the meeting as well as false rumors being spread via social media about the proposition ‘being pushed through and voted on that night’.

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton presented the room with a presentation of the direct comparison of Fannin County to nine surrounding counties in regards to the budget of this department.

It was found that Fannin County’s budget in this area was $968,265 in comparison to the average of the surrounding counties at $575,726.44.

“The point I am trying to make here, take the emotion out of this. I understand what we are talking about here, this is a difficult thing to address,” Helton said of his desire to bring the budget more in line with surrounding counties. “My whole career has been in running business and that’s what Fannin County is. It is a business. It’s a $27.5 million per year business. I am not remiss at all in asking every department to step up to the challenge and produce the best value products.”

Representatives from GMASS were also present to tell about their business, explain the role they would play in Fannin County and answer any questions from the BOA and BOC.

Shortly after the GMASS presentation, in which they demonstrated their ability and capability to streamline the appraisal process, questions from the BOA began with board member Troy Junnier being most vocal.

Junnier expressed his concerns over staffing and finally asked the question that was on many minds, will GMASS replace the tax assessors office in Fannin County.

Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Board of Tax Assessors, Tax Assessors, Chier Appraiser, Land Development, GMASS, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Dawn Cochran, Janie Bearden, Troy Junnier, Mark Henson, Anthony Holloway, Angelina Powell, Marie Woody, Kristi Reece, Budget, Consent

Tension was high as the three parties worked towards a solution.

“The purpose of the proposal that we have given the county is not to take over the tax assessors office. That’s not our intent. That’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to lend a hand to the tax assessors office and try cutting the budget at the same time,” Kristi Reese Chief Financial Officer for Gmass replied to Junier, adding, “We would work side by side with the tax assessors office. Not a come in and take over type of deal at all.”

Fannin County Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran questioned GMASS on where responsibilities would lie between the two groups.

“All that we are replacing is appraisers out in the field,” Reece replied, “We’re catching you up on your field work and maintaining your schedules.”

Cochran expressed concern that taking the office down to a staff of five which is required by law would create an inability for her staff to provide GMASS with all of the information they would need, and cited her long standing argument that Fannin County is currently experiencing a tremendous amount of growth in comparison to the other surrounding counties.

Fannin County Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson spoke up on this matter and pointed to that fact that the Chief Land Development Officer Marie Woody had spoken at a recent BOC meeting and had confirmed that new development had actually slowed and numbers were down from last year.

Johnson spoke on this issue at hand: “It’s a personal issue to many people. I was elected to handle every dollar of every tax payer frugally. I want to find a way to get back to where we were.”

“We have to take our personalities out of this because this is not our money,” Johnson said of the delicate issue.

Kristi Reece from GMASS added to this, “We don’t go in to alienate. We don’t go in to point fingers. We go in to help the county.”

Dialogue remained heated as Johnson finally stated, “If you all (BOA) can come up with a good reason why you don’t want to save the taxpayers $300,000, I want to hear it right now.”

After a short recess was taken, all parties entered the room willing to take steps to see what could be done to resolve the budget.

Cochran had taken opportunity during recess to approach GMASS about setting up a meeting with just the BOA to further discuss ways in which to incorporate the company. GMASS agreed to this meeting.

Board of Assessors board member Anthony Holloway questioned the BOC: “How much time do we have to make this educated, if we can call it that, decision?”

Commissioners agreed to pass a budget during the timeline required by law (early Dec.) and would later amend the tax assessors portion of the budget once an agreement is made. This would allow the department more time to research what would need to take place between themselves and GMASS.

It was left unclear whether the BOC would adopt the budget requested by the department or adopt a budget based on a five person staff leaving it up to the BOA to come up from the bottom dollar number.

“This is real indicative of how difficult it is to cut government,” Helton said of the tense meeting. “We need to get this resolved before the end of this year.”

Fannin County Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee finally spoke up of his feelings after remaining silent through the duration of the meeting: “I’m all for saving money as well, but I’m not for getting rid of a bunch of employees. It’s kind of hard to do both.”

Helton concluded the meeting by asking the BOA directly, “Are you interested in working with us to save the taxpayer money and get this budget back to where it should be?”

To which all board members, less Junnier who had left after the recess break, agreed that they were willing to work on the matter.

 

 

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

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Tax Assessors question county accounting practices

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – A misunderstanding of county accounting practices and a misuse of terminology had the Board of Commissioners (BOC) questioning whether the Board of Assessors were keeping two sets of books.

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran spoke at the June 12 Board of Commissioners meeting about a line item in the Tax Assessors budget that she felt was an error.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Tax Assessors, Board of Assessors, Chief Appraiser, Dawn Cochran, Troy Junnier, Budget, Line Item, Maps, Aerials, GMASS, Georgia Mass Appraisals and Services

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran questions to the BOC on why her numbers do not match the county’s official accounting records.

The line item in question concerns the purchase of new aerial maps for Fannin County. According to an agreement made last year, the Tax Assessors Department would pay for the mapping upfront, but other departments who would benefit from use of the maps would reimburse the county for their portion of the overall price.

“We started at $24,000,” Cochran said explaining the line item, “We paid $8,000 out to QPublic. We paid $22,000 to EagleView which is for the maps. We paid $1,000 for LiDAR (Light Detection and Radar) and that put us a balance of negative $7,000.”

Cochran stated that the revenue to date for her department was $7,508.13 and that invoices had been sent out to other departments for their share in the mapping costs for a total of $12,513.35.

“The current balance that should be in the line item for maps and aerials is $13,021.68,” Cochran concluded.

Cochran approached the BOC because the department still has expenditures for the year that would need to come from that line item and worried that already showing a negative balance would reflect badly on continued spending.

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton explained that crediting back revenue to a department is not how the county’s accounting practices work. Helton stated that the way the county keeps records of its expenditures and revenues is set by the county’s auditors, Rushton and Associates.

According to Helton, revenues from any department are put back into the county’s general fund. He cited the Tax Commissioners office as an example of why this is the practice. Helton stated that if revenues were credited back to a department, such as the Tax Commissioners, it would in a sense give the department unlimited spending abilities.

“They tell us that you don’t offset expenses with revenue,” Helton said explaining the auditors recommendations. “You just don’t do that.”

Helton went further to ask if Cochran had ever invited Fannin County’s Chief Financial Officer Robin Gazaway to a Board of Assessor’s meeting to explain this practice. Cochran replied that she had not, but that she had been in contact with Gazaway via email and that all board members were copied to the exchange.

Cochran did not back down from her claim saying that it is important to keep accurate numbers from the top down, adding “Our number’s don’t match up with Ms. Gazaway’s numbers.”

Helton questioned Cochran’s accounting background and why she felt that her knowledge was correct over the county’s hired CFO.

Cochran stated that her board was upset over this “false negative” and stated, “It’s really hard to try to keep two sets of books.”

This statement immediately caught the attention of the commissioners with Helton asking Cochran to clarify and if she had made both sets of books available to the county’s CFO Gazaway.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Tax Assessors, Board of Assessors, Chief Appraiser, Dawn Cochran, Troy Junnier, Budget, Line Item, Maps, Aerials, GMASS, Georgia Mass Appraisals and Services

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson would like to see clearer lines of communication be established between departments and the Board of Commissioners.

Cochran replied that she does keep two sets of books and had made them available. Gazaway, however, stated that she had never seen the second set of books.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson questioned, “Your board is upset. Which set of books are they upset over?”

Later, Board of Assessors board member Troy Junnier would clarify Cochran’s statements, “Dawn brings up a spreadsheet. It’s not a separate set of books or anything like that.”

Junnier also stood behind Cochran’s questioning, “It looks bad on our department because we’re showing a negative line item when we’re really not.”

Helton explained that the negative line item would be amended at the end of the year budget review and that all of this could have been explained by Gazaway at one of the Board of Assessors meetings had she been invited to a meeting to discuss.

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee pointed out that the BOC is more concerned with a department’s overall budget, “You’re concerned over a line item and your overall budget is right where it should be.”

“I understand why,” Johnson expanded on government accounting,”and if we all three (commissioners) understand why, you don’t have a problem because at the end of the year, as was said earlier, we’re going to vote to amend the budget, if you are over budget.”

Johnson added that there needs to more face to face interaction with the BOC and the departments when issues arise. Johnson’s reasoning is that interacting face to face and in public meetings would help to eliminate miscommunication and misinformation being spread through media outlets.

“Stop the emailing. If there is a problem come to a meeting. If there is a problem, handle it at your meetings,” Johnson said to Cochran expressing his frustration with the current lines of communication. “I for one am sick of friction between the Board of Assessors and the Board of Commissioners. I’m tired of reading stuff in the papers before you even come here.”

“Before your accuse the county and the Board of Commissioners of essentially not knowing what they’re doing, you might ought to come here first,” Johnson added.

Cochran replied to Johnson saying, “I can’t help how the media takes things and what they do with it.”

“It seems like there is an effort to discredit this board and our CFO,” Helton expressed his feelings on the matter. “It needs to stop. We are doing things accurately.”

Junnier replied to the BOC, “We didn’t come to try to make it seem like we were trying to discredit anybody.”

“I was concerned that it (negative line item) would come back not only just the department head or the department itself, but also on the assessors board,” Junnier added.

In the end Junnier thanked the BOC for fully explaining the accounting practices of the county, and for addressing the negative line item in the Board of Assessor’s budget.

After Junnier and Cochran took their seats, Chairman Helton spoke with the commissioners about a possible way to lower the budget of the Tax Assessors department.

“You know I’ve expressed a concern for sometime about our budget in our Tax Assessors department,” Helton said proposing an alternative way to structure the department, “and I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at the other counties. There’s some counties out there and their budget is just a fraction of ours.”

Helton presented the board with a 3 year contract proposed by independent appraisal company Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS). In this contract, GMASS offers to appraise a third of the counties parcels each year for three years.

The cost of this outsourcing would be approximately $223,000 for the first two years and $338,000 for the final year. The total of this proposal would be $784,000 over three years.

Johnson pointed out that the total in the proposal for three years of service is less than the current budget of the Tax Assessors department for a single year.

“I’m for anything that saves money,” Johnson said addressing the current money being spent by the county in this area. ” I know I asked two or three years ago if our money would ever come back down and I was told no. After we came back into compliance, that it would never go back down.”

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.”

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran did confirm that her department already outsources rural parcels and had planned on asking for help with approximately 13,000 parcels, a little under half the county’s total parcels, in 2019.

The BOC agreed to look over the possibility of outsourcing appraisals and would address their findings and concerns at a later date.

 

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

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Departments update the Board of Commissioners

Community, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) received updates from several departments at the second monthly meeting held on Jan. 23.

FetchYourNews, Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Stan Helton, Larry Joe Sosebee, Earl Johnson, Financial Director, Robin Gazaway

Board of Commissioners receive updates from several county departments.

The first to speak to the board was Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff. Ratcliff spoke of the recent severe weather experienced throughout the county and the impact on the county’s resources reserved for such scenarios.

“With temperatures being in the low teens, it made it pretty difficult to clear the roads,” Ratcliff spoke of the recent snow storm that closed county offices and Fannin County schools for several days.

Due to the recent freezing weather, Ratcliff reported that his department had used 300 tons of salt and 150 tons of the 89 gravel that the county had set aside, and that supplies of these would need to be replenished.

Ratcliff also reported that two vehicles in the Public Works department, a chipper and a Ford flatbed, were in need of repairs and would possibly have to be replaced in the near future.

“Our sign department made and replaced over 400 signs, street signs, this year.” Ratcliff updated.

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee questioned the cost of replacing signs, and Ratcliff replied that it varied but the approximate cost was around $35.00 per sign. Ratcliff also stated the department was increasing the height of many signs posted and this action had reduced the number of signs being stolen.

Ratcliff spoke of cuts made to the department and highlighted that salaries had been brought down by $500,000 from the previous fiscal year of 2016. Ratcliff added, “We’re still getting the same amount of work done.”

Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton addressed Ratcliff, “Just to reiterate what you’ve done here, if you go back a year ago, personnel wise and wages, you cut that in excess of 25 percent, and you’ve done it the right way.

FetchYourNews, Fannin County, Blue Ridge Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Parks and Recreation, Eddie O'Neal. Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee

Parks and Recreation Director Eddie O’Neal talks about Christmas Clash basketball tournament.

“What I see is more efficiency out there,” Helton added. “The folks that say you can’t shrink government, well you prove that you can.”

Eddie O’Neal, director of Fannin County Parks and Recreation, was second to update the BOC. O’Neal reported that 1,600 visitors had signed in and made use of the recreation facilities in the month of December.

“We also hosted our third annual Christmas Clash basketball tournament where we had 52 teams compete,” O’Neal spoke of the growth of this event.

Teams came from several counties within Georgia for this four-day event. O’Neal informed the board that the success of this event had generated nearly $15,000 in revenue.

O’Neal also spoke of the Summer Day Camp program, which continues to grow, and of additional services that might be offered this year. Parents who utilize the program have inquired of a later pick-up time.

Currently, children in the program would need to be picked up by 3 p.m. O’Neal suggested an extra charge to cover costs of keeping the facility open later so parents could pick up at 4 or 5 p.m.

The cost for two weeks of the Summer Day Camp program is $30.00, and an extra charge of $20.00 is being proposed for parents who wish to have a later pick up.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson was pleased with the transparency of revenues and purchases that is now being shown in frequent reports from the Parks and Recreation department, and Stan Helton added that he had received numerous calls from citizens that expressed their enthusiasm for the programs that the department has been adding.

“We’ve been approached by Faith Presbyterian Church. Those guys have always done what’s called a Seamless Summer food program,” O’Neal added to his update.

The Seamless Summer program provides food for children in need over the summer. Union County High School would prep meals for this program in the past, but will not be able to in 2018 due to renovations taking place over the summer break.

The department of Parks and Recreation has been approached to see if they could prep these meals while prepping their own meals for the Summer Day Camp program.

“We would like to help these guys out,” O’Neal went on. The program feeds a little over 200 kids during the summer and is funded via reimbursement from Bright from the Start, a Georgia state Department of Early Care and Learning.

No decision was made by the BOC regarding this proposal.

Chief Land Development Officer Marie Woody notified the BOC that the Scrap Tire Removal Program has been a success and that the future dates scheduled for tire drop off have been cancelled.

FetchYourNews, Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Tax Assessors, Board of Assessors, Larry Joe Sosebee, Troy Junnier

Board of Assessors member Troy Junnier speaks on behalf of the tax assessors in hopes of getting new vehicles.

“We took over 6,000 tires in,” Woody spoke of the success of the program and adding, “We’ve expended our funds.”

Board of Assessors board member Troy Junnier spoke on behalf of the Tax Assessors Office asking for two replacement vehicles for the department.
“If you don’t allow us to get two more (vehicles), then it is going to cause us a big issue countywide,” Junnier stated, presenting his case to the board. “It’s going to cost all the county residents in the future higher taxes anyway.”

Discussions became heated as Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson expressed that the department does not need new vehicles and should look into buying used.

Ultimately the board agreed to consider purchasing two used vehicles for the department with a spending limit of $20,000 per vehicle.

Johnson ended the exchange, “When I get done with these vehicles, I don’t want to hear anything from the tax assessors (about vehicles) ever again for my remaining three years.”

 

 

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

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

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

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.

Board of Assessors discuss policy updates, revisions

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Updates of two policies and suggestions for the revision of a third were discussed at the Thursday, Nov. 9, Fannin County Board of Assessors (BOA) meeting.

The Construction in Progress on January 1 Market Risk Factor policy was updated. According to the policy, if new construction of or additions to a structure are determined to be still in progress as of January 1 each year, a uniform market risk factor of 75 percent will be given after the actual percentage of completion is determined by the appraiser. Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran stated the policy was mandated by the state.

“What market risk factor is: if a house is under construction, and (it is) only 60 percent (complete) by law we’re required to put a 0.75 (into the Cost Design Field), giving (the taxpayer) a 25 percent discount because of the risk on the market for not being complete if it were to sell,” Cochran explained.

The Extension of Time to File an Appeal policy was amended to read the Board “will not extend the appeal time frame set according to Official Code of Georgia 48-5-311.”

The opinion of County Attorney Lynn Doss, as presented by Cochran, stated, “The Georgia Court of Appeals has made it very clear that there can be no extension of the time for filling an appeal and any appeal filed subsequent to the statutory filing deadlines will be dismissed … There is not any provision in the law for the Tax Assessors to waive the time frame for filing an appeal.”

In essence, for county taxpayers, if an appeal is not filed with the Board of Assessors within the allotted deadline, the Board cannot make an exception to extend the given deadline.

In a continuation of discussion from the October BOA meeting, the tax assessors Locked Gate/Access Denied policy for field appraisers was reviewed for revision. Cochran explained she had studied similar policies from surrounding counties. The Board agreed, though no official action was taken, that steps should include leaving a door knocker note at the parcel followed by a phone call placed to the taxpayer of the parcel with blocked access informing the owner of the need to access the property to appraise. Next, if no communication can be reached, the tax assessors office would send a certified letter to the taxpayer. After a period, still to be determined, if contact cannot be reached, the parcel would then be appraised using information such as building permits and aerial photography.

After Cochran mentioned one nearby county’s procedure included allowing field appraisers to walk around lock gates if possible, Board member Troy Junnier stated he was strictly opposed to this idea. “There’s no sense in putting an assessor in harm’s way,” Junnier said.

Junnier also stressed the need of cooperation from parcel owners to communicate with the tax assessors office if a blocked access situation occurs to allow for an accurate appraisal for the taxpayer.

Field Appraiser Sharon Burke discussed a situation with an appraisal that involved a portion of a home that had been added to a structure that was originally built in 1902. Cochran added that the dilemma in the appraisal was whether to appraise the structure based on the original build date or the date of the modern renovations.

“Why we wanted to bring it to you,” Cochran told the Board, “is we are going to make this basically our policy, our uniform way of doing this if we run across this again. And we will.”

The Board agreed the home should be appraised according to the addition portion of the structure and that this procedure should also be followed in similar appraisal situations that may follow.

Cochran said the procedural change would be added to the Residential Cost Manual for field appraisers to create uniformity for the future.

In other business, four appeals were forwarded to the Board of Equalization by the Board of Assessors.

Also, four invoices totaling $7,097.08 were approved, which included costs for computer system upgrades ($3,024.12) as well as the purchase of backup tapes for department servers ($700), four new office filing cabinets ($2,699.96) and uniforms for two new tax assessors department employees ($673). Cochran stated the expenditures would be purchased with funds from capital outlay.

In addition, Jan. 10, 2018, was approved by the Board as a settlement conference date for potential taxpayer appeals that have cycled through the Board of Equalization and may need to be forwarded to Superior Court. Cochran told the Board there were as many as five potential cases that could be addressed at the January settlement conference.

 

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

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.

FetchYourNews.com - Dedicated to serve the needs of the community. Provide a source of real news-Dependable Information-Central to the growth and success of our Communities. Strive to encourage, uplift, warn, entertain, & enlighten our readers/viewers- Honest-Reliable-Informative.

News - Videos - TV - Marketing - Website Design - Commercial Production - Consultation

Search

FetchYourNews.com - Citizen Journalists - A place to share “Your” work. Send us “Your” information or tips - 706.276.NEWs (6397) 706.889.9700 chief@FetchYourNews.com

Back to Top