ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners split their opinions on an idea to alter the Chamber and County sharing of the Hotel/Motel tax during budget sessions this year.
Brought up during the Chamber’s meeting with the board by Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch, the two entities delved into what it would mean to possibly shift the current 70/30 split to increase funding for the county as well as a boost in their own ambitions for increasing tourism and county draw.
Crouch mentioned only shifting it by 10% to a 60/40 split in the Chamber’s favor. Among several ideas, the county’s recent agreement and push for better signage at the county line arose. The idea resurfaced after a recent push from citizens to claim Gilmer as the Wrestling Capital of Georgia. The county is actively seeking funding sources for the project. However, the idea of funding it through the capital budget seems less likely as the budget meetings revealed at least two departments whose request could consume the entire budget on their own.
As members of the chamber were present at the meeting, the consistent report was overwhelming support and praise for what the Chamber has accomplished saying, “I love the Chamber, they are so engaged with my needs.”
Ultimately, Crouch noted that he has enjoyed and appreciated the Chamber’s work. Instead, he noted that as a business owner he agrees, but as a Commissioner, he sees the constant people talking about road conditions and similar needs. He went on to say that the change wasn’t by any means a reflection of a poor job by the Chamber, but rather he felt at a certain point, he was seeing diminishing returns alongside greater needs elsewhere.
Commission Chairman Charlie Paris disagreed with the idea saying, “My concern would be that we are talking about putting ourselves in a difficult situation in the future to have a better situation in the immediate. I think we have got to look at it long term.”
He went on to add later that he knows the county isn’t where it needs to be on roads. He related a story when he was tasked to go out to the road department and take pictures of junk equipment to be sold off or moved for disposal. Paris said, “When I got back into our meeting and I was showing the pictures, Jim Smith just about had a stroke because ‘No we use that. We use that. We use that.’ That’s what they had to work with.”
Paris noted that the last four years have seen increases from a 16 person crew to 22 people. He noted the equipment replacements including dump trucks, bulldozer, paving roller, road sweeper, and an equipment shed to prolong the life of that equipment. He made a point to note the progress the road department has made saying that the Road Department is continuing along the path of improvement. He said they will continue needing to reverse the department’s neglect for years to come, it can’t be solved in a single year.
Chamber President and CEO Paige Green noted that she expects a plateau at some point. While she agreed with the ideas like gateway signage and organic growth from the county’s location. She added that she understood the “tough decisions” that the board makes, but the hotel/motel money reinvested in an appropriate way would be the long-term solution as opposed to the short-term solution of decreasing funding.
Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller also commented saying he would look at the number if the budget absolutely demanded it.
However, as of now, no changes have been made in the proposed budgets split. The Commissioners still have their October 16 work session and October 17 regular session as well as expected special called meetings before the budget is balanced.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners met Thursday, Dec. 21, for final approval of their 2018 budget before the new year.
Before the official vote, the commissioners presented a couple of final clerical notes to the budget where they changed language on one item to reflect the money allocation. The board changed a Public Works line item to phrase its project as lift station and/or scale as Public Works Director Jim Smith brought to light a recent issue with one of the solid waste department’s scales. In need of repair or replacement, this could preclude the lift station project from next year’s budget. Additionally, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris added an item in the capital budget for an upgrade to the county’s digital storage and the 146 gigabyte share of the county server they have. The server does not have sufficient space. Therefore, an upgrade to storage was already included in the allocated money, but Paris stated he had not listed it as an item.
None of these items actually changed any money allocation or lines of the budget.
Citizens speaking at the meeting brought up discussion on items for the budget in the county. Gilmer resident Joene DePlancke asked about the county’s golf course funding and revenue. Paris offered that this year represents the first year that the course is standing alone, meaning revenue will be equal to expenditures. However, it was also noted the “break even” did not include capital expenditures for the facility. Still, the commissioners noted confidence that the facility is continuing its progress towards a revenue generation for the county.
Citizen Dan Meadows commented on the county’s work session and Gilmer County Post Commissioner Dallas Miller’s comments about the budget and funding for Public Works versus Public Safety. Seeking alternative paths to funding, Meadows questioned possibilities to utilize SPLOST or grants for employee funding. Much of the citizens’ input revolved around the conversations of funding raises and employee retention while avoiding inter-department tensions or funding re-allocations as mentioned in the county’s December work session. Additionally, DePlancke suggested utilizing volunteers throughout the county when possible.
Citizen Donald Patrick echoed the same sentiments stating the county needs to keep good people in these departments. He noted the issues with training and paying an employee but losing a potential employee to neighboring counties who may offer $1000 to $2000 more in pay.
Commissioners confirmed to those present that no additional changes had been made to Public Safety after the suggestions, and Paris reaffirmed previous comments about the progress the road department had made through capital funding in recent years. Find out more on the topic and discussion with “December meetings continue commissioners’ budget conversation.”
Final approval came for the 2018 budget with a motion from Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch and a second from Miller.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – While considerations continue for Gilmer County’s 2018 budget, new changes and suggestions have been considered through the commissioners’ December meetings.
Some changes came with an expected increase in property tax revenue that was mirrored with a increase to contingency fund in relation to each other. While the expected increase is based on the current standing for property taxes in 2017, the commissioners decided placing the increase in contingency would allow for some extra room on the exact number fluctuation.
The contingency also further supports the back-up funds for buildings and maintenance that Gilmer County Post Commissioner Dallas Miller has been requesting as Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris tells FYN that contingency could be used for any unexpected expenses for repairs or other items.
Funding has begun being set aside for the Lower Cartecay Road Bridge as well. In the county’s capital budget, $250,000 was set into a line for the bridge repair. It was also later increased during their regular meeting to $350,000, pulling the extra $100,000 from added revenue in the capital budget from taxes.
The commissioners are still assuring the public they are actively pursuing a federal grant to repair the bridge. However, as the funding is not guaranteed, Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch further urged these funds allocation.
As Miller brought the additional $100,000 in the Capital Budget to light in their regular session, his original recommendation was to use the funds to support capital purchases for the public works department. Crouch responded saying, “Since we have a bridge that’s been out for nine months or so, it should go there until we nail down alternative financing.”
Crouch went on to confirm that as soon as they could confirm the grant funds or other means of financing the $1.2 million project, he was in agreement with Miller’s suggestion.
Pursuing an increase to financing for the public works department, Miller had previously made suggestions as to accomplishing that during their work session saying the county is behind in providing roads and bridges for public works as public safety in whole gets three times the funding as public works.
While initially stating he wanted to increase the percentage of the budget that public works receives, Miller specifically stated he wanted to take a flat number out of the public safety budget and move it into the public works. Miller later mentioned $200,000 as a number.
Paris took a moment to say that he had repeatedly cut all the departments under the public safety budget and could not feasibly see any possibility of further cuts.
Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson adamantly opposed the suggestion saying the department didn’t have it. Nicholson told the commissioners that he is already going to lose staff because he cannot give raises to everyone. He further commented saying they would be the lowest paid Sheriff’s office in the Appalachian Judicial Circuit starting Jan. 1.
Nicholson vehemently defended his current budget after major cuts adding that issues continually arise in the county that affect his budget. Referencing a couple of medical issues that have arisen, he noted major expenses that came through errors at other areas.
Nicholson also noted, “I have not increased my deputies staffing, my patrol staffing, probably, in ten years.”
Furthering the discussion, Gilmer County Public Safety Director Tony Pritchet added, “If we cut anything out of ours, it’s going to have to come out of salary and wages. And you can take two to four hundred thousand dollars out of the revenue this next year because we won’t be able to handle the transports we have from the hospital.”
Pritchett also noted that the revenue each year for the emergency services offsets about half of their budget. He noted strain on their salary and wages already and any more cuts would make the work load unsustainable.
As Miller responded, he noted the great work public safety, as a whole, has accomplished, alongside the major needs of the county’s infrastructure. While Paris spoke about the strides the county has made in public works in the last couple years, Miller noted the strides they still need.
Gilmer County Public Works Director Jim Smith also spoke against the suggestion saying although he appreciated the acknowledgement of the needs public works has, he didn’t feel it would accomplish anything to improve public works at the detriment of public safety.
Smith stated, “I don’t feel like that you take from the gains that you have made in other deficient areas to give to another.”
Smith went on to comment on the progress his department has made saying that in his 16 years with the county, public works has been treated better in recent years than it has ever been.
While this specific suggestion never came to approval, Miller alluded at the regular meeting that the $100,000 in the capital budget, which he agreed to be put into the Lower Cartecay Road bridge project, would be returned towards public works investments as funding for the bridge was obtained.
Commenting on the budget, Chairman Paris called it a “bare bones” budget for its departments.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – With discussions upcoming on the 2018 proposed budget, citizens are taking a closer look at the finances.
FYN has also delved deeper into a more detailed look at the 2018 Proposed Budget.
First, a comparison with the current standing of the 2017 budget will show the most general changes as the 2018 proposed Maintenance and Operations (M&O) budget at $28,729,313.00, up from the current 2017 M&O budget at $27,037,174.00. While this represents an increase of $1,692,139.00, citizens will need to remember that the 2017 is still to go through final amendments at the beginning of next year when the final records and tallies are taken into account.
The 2018 budget is proposed at this point, allowing still for changes before final adoption, which is scheduled next week on Dec. 21.
The largest increases fall where expected in the largest departments. The Sheriff’s Office will increase $127,755 (2018 total: $3,406,009). Roads/Bridges will increase $214,023 (2018 total: $1,522,758). 911 Dispatch will increase $111,017 (2018 total: $918,140). Fire and Rescue sees the largest increase without comparison at $221,517.
However, as citizens look at smaller departments, increase seem be just as large relative to current budgets. Tax Assessors will see a $77,523 increase. While this may seem a smaller number, comparing it to their previous 2017 budget of $780,086 represents almost a 10 percent increase. The Tax Assessors Department was among those asking for raises this year as they have seen a higher than average turnover rate for employees in the past who, similar to other departments, find better financial opportunities elsewhere. While, usually, assessors have different levels based on knowledge, experience and training, Commissioner Chairman Charlie Paris has previously stated the raises this year are being spread in an attempt to bring up the lowest paid employees in the county, not just individual departments.
Additionally, Probate Court will see a $60,880 increase (2018 total: $373,222), and Solid Waste will see a $68,013 increase (2018 total: $787,992).
Another major change comes in from Elections. Considering the coming federal, state and county elections in May, possible run-off in July, November and another possible run-off in December, the $97,030 increase is not unexpected over the 2017 budgeted $33,442. The 2017 year had no county positions up for election.
One department saw a major decrease in budget. The Parks and Recreation Department will see a $57,449 decrease (2018 total: $606,172). Having recently lost an employee, the department decided not to replace the person. While not all of the decrease is attributed to this loss, the majority is accounted through payroll as well as benefits and healthcare.
While these changes are not fully approved yet, the meetings set for Wednesday at 8 a.m., Thursday at 5:30 p.m. and Thursday at 6 p.m. will have time set for citizens to speak about the budget to the Board of Commissioners. See more when you read “Commissioners comment on budget, cuts, and process.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Since October, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners have been through hearings and meetings, discussing and reworking the county’s 2018 budget.
With last week’s publication, a balanced budget is now available for debate. But does that mean the budget is set and beyond change? No. While publishing the budget generally signals the final stages of the process, it does not mean you, as citizens, cannot speak, petition and urge further changes for the county’s budget.
In fact, Gilmer County Post Commissioner Dallas Miller specifically urged citizens to attend one of this week’s coming commissioners meetings. There are several chances to respond as Wednesday hosts their 8 a.m. work session and Thursday hosts both a public comments meeting at 5:30 p.m. and regular session at 6 p.m., . Even then, the final budget approval is not scheduled until next week, Dec. 21.
If no further changes or delays come, the commissioners are set to have their budget before the start of 2018. This means no need for a spending resolution for January. A resolution that the Board has used before, it stands as another sign of the progress Gilmer has made in recent years.
Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch noted the M&O Budget (Maintenance and Operations) was and is the challenge in the budgeting process saying, “We’re going to be in a challenged financial situation.” Noting the challenges ahead, Crouch did say he believes the county has majorly improved financially in the last few years.
The county’s budget process stretches limited resources across the county and leads to tough decisions for the commissioners. Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris commented on one of the major changes to this year’s budget stating, “Our objective this year is to get those people on the very lowest levels of pay … and we’re trying to concentrate on those folks this year.” Paris was speaking on numerous departments asking for raises for personnel, attempting to keep our county competitive to others. Pay was mentioned several times in the process for attracting quality candidates for positions and keeping those here from leaving for financial reasons.
When questioned about sustaining the financial needs of these raises, Paris noted the county’s successes and increases in tourism and popularity to increase LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) rather than millage rates on property taxes.
Part of the county’s successes are exemplified in achievements like updating the county’s vehicle fleet, from road works machines to emergency vehicles in recent years. Also, maintaining a contingency fund for operating finances for the county is another concern. Growing the contingency funds could address issues like Miller’s concerns for building maintenance in coming years, but issues like that as well as the lower Cartecay Road bridge have yet to be given specific financial sources to address them.
While not specifically noted in the budget, the county is also utilizing its Tax Anticipaton Note (TAN) later into the year. Paris noted that he expects, with the county’s current progress, he could see Gilmer reaching a point in a few years for bidding a TAN but not using it. Though the first year in that situation may still bid the TAN as a back up, not using it would be the exemplification of the achievement.
Despite the positives achieved, the process of budgeting for Gilmer took in all requests for the county budget and saw a need for massive cuts. Much of the county’s offices and departments requesting raises will not see the full request fulfilled. The Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Management personnel already saw raises in the last couple of years. While the number of requests drove home the importance, the county’s finances could not support every increase. Paris tells FYN this is what leads to tough decisions for the county such as focusing on the lowest paid employees this year for raises.
A major concern from Post Commissioner Miller was noted as he stated, “What I am concerned most about this budget … We spend three times as much on public safety as we do on public works. Public safety is almost 50 percent of our budget.” Miller noted public safety as inclusive of departments like the jail, the Sheriff’s Office, Fire and Rescue, 911, animal shelter and others.
Miller’s aforementioned building concerns were also noted saying, “We have aging infrastructure in our county that is unsafe, that is falling down, that is deteriorating and needs to be updated. We don’t spend but about two and a half million dollars a year on the public works … It’s out of sync.”
Noting the infrastructure was among his major concerns, Miller stated he would be pushing harder to address this in the future.
Crouch and Miller both echoed notions that they expect further conversation and discussion on the budget. However, with the already advertised special called meeting next week on Dec. 21, the budget approval looks to be a major item at this month’s regular meetings.
The proposed budget is showing 25 departments increasing and five decreasing in total budget. However, Paris notes that most of the changes are less than five percent in either direction.
MULTIPLE GUILTY PLEAS EXPOSE ABILITY OF DRUG CARTELS
TO LAUNDER DRUG PROCEEDS THROUGH MONEY REMITTERS
ATLANTA – The last of nine Atlanta-based defendants charged with laundering drug money to Mexico through metro-Atlanta area money remitters has pleaded guilty, concluding a three-year long federal investigation targeting professional money launderers that exposed the ability of drug cartels to launder their illicit proceeds through money remittance companies.
“This investigation revealed how drug cartels use remittance companies to fuel their criminal enterprises,” said U. S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “Money remitters have strict rules to follow. When employees make a decision to ignore those rules, both the employee and money remitter businesses can face prosecution.”
“This case demonstrates the commitment of HSI and our law enforcement partners to dismantle and bring to justice those involved with trying to circumvent our financial laws and help launder illegal drug proceeds,” said ICE HSI Atlanta Acting Special Gregory Wiest.
“Drug cartels are constantly looking for conduits like money service businesses to launder their illicit drug proceeds back to Mexico. We work to dismantle drug organizations by cutting off the money flow back to Mexico, this makes it harder for the drug cartels to operate,” said James Dorsey, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Atlanta Field Office. “IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to target these money laundering experts by working jointly with our law enforcement partners.”
According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the charges, and other information presented in court: In 2014, federal law enforcement agents began investigating individuals in the metro-Atlanta area that were suspected of laundering drug proceeds to Mexico. Federal agents utilized cooperating sources to infiltrate these individuals’ networks and determined that the money launderers were frequently using small businesses to send drug proceeds to Mexico. These small businesses offered “money remittance services,” which allow customers to wire funds to individuals in other countries without using traditional bank accounts.
Investigators determined that managers and employees of a number of metro-Atlanta remitters were knowingly helping the money launderers send drug proceeds to Mexico. During the course of this investigation, cooperating sources and an undercover law enforcement officer brought drug proceeds or money that was represented as coming from drug sales to different remitters. In exchange for a kickback, managers and employees of nine different remitters agreed to launder the funds to Mexico by breaking the transactions into smaller amounts and by listing fake sender names, addresses, and telephone numbers. The investigation revealed that nine metro-Atlanta remitters transmitted more than $40 million over a roughly four-year timeframe. The resulting guilty pleas in this case made clear that the bulk of this money came from the sale of illegal narcotics.
Several of the defendants who pleaded guilty actually served as the Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering (“BSA/AML”) compliance officers for their respective stores and were responsible for detecting and reporting these types of illicit financial transactions. Instead, these defendants used their anti-money laundering training to help the drug proceeds flow to Mexico undetected.
The recorded undercover transactions that took place during the operation exposed how willing many remitters were to help their customers secretly send drug proceeds to Mexico. One defendant, who served as a store manager and BSA/AML compliance officer, even gave an undercover officer tips on where to sell drugs in Atlanta. Another defendant, who also served as a store manager and BSA/AML compliance officer, offered to provide a cooperating source help on obtaining fake identifications so that drug proceeds could be transmitted to Mexico undetected.
The following individuals have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in money laundering and are awaiting sentencing:
- Oscar Gustavo Perez-Bernal, 35, of Atlanta, Georgia, was the manager and BSA/AML compliance officer at La Tienda and Cocina Linda Vista, which were both located in Chamblee, Georgia.
- Itzayana Guadalupe Perez-Bernal, a/k/a Lupe, 24, of Norcross, Georgia, was an employee at La Tienda.
- Norma Dominguez, 57, of Atlanta, Georgia, was the manager and BSA/AML compliance officer at La Veracruzana, which was located in Chamblee, Georgia.
- Norma Carrera, 39, of Atlanta, Georgia, was the manager and BSA/AML compliance officer at Hilos y Estambres Teresita, which was located in Chamblee, Georgia.
- Victor Perez, 31, of Lawrenceville, Georgia, was the manager and BSA/AML compliance officer at Intercargo, which had offices in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and Marietta, Georgia.
- Merli Sandy Tejeda-Bermudez, a/k/a Jorhley Adadlay-Bermudez, 30, of Duluth, Georgia, was the manager and BSA/compliance officer at Mundo Cargo and RR Latinas, which were both located in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
- Daniel Castaneda-Garcia, 32, of Atlanta, Georgia, was the manager and BSA/AML compliance officer at Taqueria el Dany, which was located in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
- Lidia Pineda-Altamarino, a/k/a Lily, 33, of Lawrenceville, Georgia.
Additionally, Susan Fiorella Ayala-Chavez, a/k/a Pitus, 30, of Lawrenceville, Georgia, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in money laundering and has been sentenced to three years, one month in federal prison. Ayala-Chavez was an employee at the Rainforest Chevron gas station in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
This case is being investigated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation. The Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department, Georgia State Patrol, and Powder Springs Police Department provided valuable assistance throughout the course of the investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas J. Krepp and Alison B. Prout are prosecuting the case. The Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section provided significant assistance.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.
Several citizens and business owners from downtown attended the Ellijay City Council Monday night, October 17. They arrived to speak out on issues at the Council.
However, the majority were there not to speak about the 3.70 Millage Rate, but rather to return to discussion on the Downtown Boardwalk and Alcohol on it. With much discussion revolving around Bunk’s on the Boardwalk, one owner went so far as to say the lack of an exemption to allow alcohol on the Boardwalk was driving out business for her and she was close to closing her shop due to it.
This issue has been discussed since January of this year with a couple of Ordinances coming to proposal in an effort to solve the problem of the Boardwalk being considered City property. That said, current ordinances do not allow open containers on City Sidewalks, which the Boardwalk is considered to be. These ordinance proposals have yet to pass the council.
Discussion spilled over to the City Council’s September 29th meeting where the issue was once again brought up. Citizens began suggesting the meeting was not properly advertised to allow that topic as several of them did not attend the meeting. Standing upon that allegation, one citizen went so far as to request the Council void the meeting, which would negate everything done. The suggestions of mis-advertisement were strongly denied by Mayor Al Hoyle. However, the Mayor did instruct Attorney Kayann Hayden West to look into the advertisements to see if any errors had occurred.
Moving on with the topic, two final suggestions seemed to arise, with Councilman David Westmoreland offering a new look at an exemption for a smaller area of the Boardwalk, and another coming from the downtown Businesses offering to buy or lease the Boardwalk for their use. Though the suggestion hit a snag as such a sell or lease would need to be put to bid, it did not seem that those at the meeting were opposed to a bid process with one questioning if the council would prefer the local businesses if a bid process came with tie bids.
Still, other topics did arise during the Citizen’s Speak portion of the meeting as local Jeff Riblet questioned the council about any alternative options to raising the Property Tax to help the City’s Budget. Riblet suggested the possibility of a Municipal Sales Tax, or a city increase to Sales Tax, but Mayor Hoyle stated he was assured that the City did not currently have the authority for such a tax according to current state legislation.
Mayor Hoyle went on to say that though the Millage Rate was required to be advertised as a tax increase, it would actually bring in less money for the council. This occurs due to the change in Property Taxes and an increase in exemptions in the city. However, when you look at an individual’s taxes, though last year’s Millage Rate was 3.470, this year’s 3.70 rate would give a property valued at $100,o00 for a $14.28 increase.
The finance focused meeting also received a presentation from Matt Bidwell to offer options for the City’s Healthcare. Bidwell urged the council to take some form of action soon as Open Enrollment Changes for the City are due by November 4. Currently the City of Ellijay is a part of Blue Cross Blue Shield through GMA (Georgia Municipal Association). This Medical insurance is presenting a 14.03% increase for next year.
With the increase, Bidwell took the city to the Affordable Care Act’s Healthcare Market to find the lowest option for the City. This option was given by Humana for the city representing a 42.82% increase over their current plan. For employees of the City, the GMA plan’s Employee cost will increase from $32,332 to $36,868 as opposed to Humana’s option of Employee cost going to $45,134. Though the Council moved to approve continuing with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia through the GMA, they did not approve any Dental or Vision Plans. This hold of the other plans also was recommended by Bidwell to the Council.
Be sure to check out the details on this proposal below.