Audit and economic state of the county

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Chris Hollifield, of Rushton and Company, reported 3 issues on Gilmer County’s 2018 Audit Report.

The report, presented on July 2, 2019, offered the companies unmodified opinion for the county after completing the recent months’ work on collecting and codifying the financial information and status of the entity. Hollifield told the county that the work went smoothly and completed on time for reporting on the 2018 Fiscal Year. Hollifield said they were able to provide the unmodified or “clean” opinion.

The reported net position of the county presented a total net position of $46,016,554 for Gilmer with the financials ending the year with $2,098,695 in Revenue over Expenditures.

The audit also pointed out the activity, or changes, in the finances over 2017. While the overall Revenue increased by $1,717,821, or 8.9 percent, the activity highlighted a $728,914 increase in Property Tax revenue, equal to about a 12 percent increase. Gilmer County Post Commissioner Dallas Miller noted two other increases including Sales Tax by 8.5  percent, and Hotel/Motel Tax 13 percent as he praised the economic growth the County has seen.

Still he cautioned the county on the expenditure side when he pointed out the major expenses saying, “If I take Public Safety and Judicial, we are spending 55 percent of our budget on those two areas. I just don’t see, and I’ve said this before, but I don’t see how we can sustain the growth and the percentage of those areas over time. It’s just not a sustainable number if you put more than half of our expenses in those areas.” Expenditures have increased $912,157, an 8.9 percent increase.

The three issues reported in the Audit included two significant deficiencies and one noncompliance. The first deficiency involved the Auditor’s opinion that the county should increase the size of its financial staff. The second deficiency involved the Auditor saying that Planning and Zoning should be making more frequent deposits and not hold money for any length of time. According to Hollifield, these comments were also on last year’s audit, but each focused on the Auditor’s suggestions to avoid chances for issues to arise and not on any found discrepancies or mishandling.

The third issue, a noncompliance, was also a timing issue as the auditors found near year’s end when the SPLOST deposit was received. The electronic deposit is put into the general fund and is immediately moved to SPLOST fund by finance staff. Addressing the issue, the suggestion was to alter the electronic deposits to enter the SPLOST fund directly without staff having to move the funds.

 

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Budget continues perks for citizens and employees

News

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – East Ellijay is continuing more than just property tax waivers for the ‘19-’20 fiscal year as they presented and approved their budget in June’s meeting.

Introducing the new budget, East Ellijay Mayor Mack West noted in his discussion that the ‘18-’19 budget did not need to take money from reserves to balance the budget as projected. The final financial reporting shows approximate revenues at $1,590,000 and actual expenditures at $1,380,000, leaving a $210,000 excess of revenue over expenditures.

Continuing into the next fiscal year, the council approved the waiver of solid waste, semi-weekly, residential curb-side pick-up fees city residents. According to a letter the West provided the council, “business and commercial entities use area contractors for waste disposal” and are not a part of the waiver.

Another item the city is continuing comes as a finish to last year’s budget. The council approved an $800 bonus to city employees, coming in July. Mayor West stated during the meeting that due to the diligence of employees and efforts to keep expenditures low, all employees would receive the bonus.

The bonus has been done for years, so many in fact, that council members could not remember exactly when the tradition began. Continuing the bonus still required the council’s approval,however, as is done every year.

West applauded the city’s staff in the letter saying, “All City Employees, including our many contract employees, are well trained, dedicated individuals with performance levels above and beyond expectations. As long as we have a good team and work together, we can provide the required services to our citizens without any property tax assessements.”

The letter also gave a statement on the city’s current financial status at the end of May 2019. With eight General Fund CD’s, the city holds $2,127,879.51. They also hold two SPLOST CD’s totaling $330,548.54.

Read the Mayor’s letter to the council with Page 1, Page 2, and Page 3.

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East Ellijay continues Property Tax Waiver

News

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – The city council of East Ellijay voted this week to formally adopt their 2019 tax year millage rate.

Mayor of East Ellijay, Mack West recommended the council reduce their millage from 3.5 to 3 mils. However, he also recommended a continuation of waiving all personal and business property taxes.

According to West’s letter to the council, “Property Taxes have not been collected in East Ellijay since 1976.”

Approval came in two motions as the city first unanimously approved the millage rate reduction. Then, the second motion approved the waiving of the property tax.

 

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Commissioners pushing for “Fast Answer” in pay raises

News, Opinion

What’s the rush in Gilmer County for Post Commissioner pay raises? As the issue is moving forward in the Board of Commissioners revolves around three post commissioners, new information has drastically changed how the Board as a whole is attempting to achieve the goal of a raise.

Looking back into recent years, the Administrative Wages stood at $20,685 in 2017. It was then raised in 2018 to $21,083, not an uncommon increase as post commissioner positions gain “Cost of Living” adjustments, certification supplements, or longevity increases.

The current Post Commissioners’ base salary is $7,125.38. If the Post Commissioner has completed the Carl Vinson Institute of Government classes, they gain $1,200 in supplement pay. There is also Cost of Living Increases that have been added in recent years as well as a “Longevity Payment” if the Post Commissioner is re-elected. Additionally, health insurance is included.

However, this raise will only increase the Base Pay, everything else is added on after. So it will take what is considered a part-time position as Post Commissioner from $7,125.38 to $14,250.76.

It has been well documented that Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch is the one who initiated the conversation about a raise for Post Commissioners. He has said that as he looks at the position on his way out, he did not run for re-election, it is something that he feels should be changed. The final agreed amount seemed to fall at doubling the base pay of the position, from 10% of the chairman’s salary to 20%.

When it was originally brought up, the idea was to handle the change by “home rule.” This means that the Board would change its own charter, and it would hold meetings where citizens could speak and comment on their thoughts about the change. Then the board would approve or not approve the change. If approved, the change would take effect at the next election cycle.

The catch came when County Attorney David Clark informed the Board at a later meeting that such a change would have had to be done before qualifying. This was a time when Crouch said he was unsure if he would run again or not.

This is because if the positions pay changes, it will affect qualifying fees for running in the election for that position. A post commissioner candidate pays 3% of the position’s annual salary as a qualifying fee.

However, since this revelation, the county has not decided to move forward with the change to take effect for the next election cycle. They have instead pushed straight for a local legislation answer to the issue by sending it to Atlanta to be approved by the state in their earl 2019 legislative session.

However, if this happens, it will not only push away the opportunity for a public hearing and opinions by locals on the issue as the county’s charter demands, it will also take immediate effect as soon as the Governor signs the bill. It will also take effect for BOTH post commissioner positions instead of just one.

This means the current Board of Commissioners is attempting to rush ahead with an idea that was only raised a little over a month ago through the fastest option possible instead of following their own charter and their own rules to let the home rule change take effect on the next cycle. Why?

The argument was also made that these people aren’t paying attention to what they make annually, instead running for the benefit of the county. Yet, in their public meetings, Attorney David Clark openly said the pay increase would entice more people and more qualified people to the position as he likened it to that of management of a $20 million company.

Additionally, this raise further seems to be only fueled by the idea that it makes the position more attractive and “worth it” as their is no apparent changes in the responsibilities or duties of the Post Commissioner.

Is that a good reason to raise the position’s pay? That is for citizens to decide instead of state legislators.

If this is sent to the state legislation instead of handled at the county level, it also introduces a fault in the law of the county. As it is stated that a candidate should pay 3% of the Post Commissioner annual salary as a qualifying fee. Changing through state legislation puts these people outside of the county’s law as they did not pay the expected 3%.

Yes the Post 1 Commissioner (Dallas Miller) has spent close to two years in the position being paid what he qualified for with the 3%, but the Post 2 Commissioner Elect (Karleen Ferguson) will likely only spend 6 months in office before her salary doubles. The “6 months” comes from estimations from county officials that the Governor may not even sign the bill, if approved, until June or July. Regardless, that is a Post 2 Commissioner spending the vast majority of her term at double the salary that she “qualified” for.

Put aside the people, put aside the question of if the raise should happen or not. The real question is why the Board is so bent on pushing this change through as fast as possible.

Breaking down the options is easy.

Home Rule requires a time frame before qualifying, requires all advertisements and public hearings necessary for changing the county’s charter, and doesn’t take effect until the position is up for election again.

Local Legislation is done in the next three months, is only required to spread the information of the change through state level requirements, and takes effects for all parties immediately.

The moral question at hand is not whether the Post Commissioners deserve a raise, many past Post Commissioners have openly stated that the job is not worth the pay. The question is simple, “WHY THE RUSH?”

Why does the Board not move forward with a suggested change to its charter or ordinances as it should, and as it has with many of its other changes including the River Regulations, Land Ordinance changes, and even its annual budgets.

Why the rush?

Commissioners getting a raise?

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A “hindrance” is how Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch described the toll a Post Commissioner takes during their service.

Having served almost four years and stepping down at the end of December, Crouch has led the board’s discussion on Commissioner salaries as he described in October’s meetings how it has affected both his business and life.

Crouch went further to say the increase would help to attract people who would do a good job for the county, noting that his business has been affected by the time he has spent on Post Commissioner duties and has cost him money in the long run.

However, much has changed since he began the conversations earlier this month in budget sessions. The Commissioners are still considering raising the salaries from 10% to 20% of the Chairman’s, effectively doubling the pay. Yet, the county’s attorney, David Clark, informed them during the special session that changing the salary should have been done before qualifying was held for the position.

Discussion continued on the topic despite the setback as the county is moving toward a legislative session answer to the obstacle. Though the board can change the salary prior to qualifying, now, they will seek to have their District Representative and Speaker of the House David Ralston or State Senator Steve Gooch introduce a change the county’s Post Commissioner salaries in the 2019 general assembly.

Clark also noted the last time the Commissioner’s Salary was changed was in 2001. Though all three Commissioners agreed about changing the salaries, moving forward now will also change the discussion since the budget session as if it is done at the legislative level, it will immediately affect Post 1 Commissioner, Dallas Miller.

Clark called the change in salary overdue, not only for the Post Commissioners, but for the entire board. If the board was to change the post Commissioners to 20% and then raise the Chairman’s salary, it would effectively further raise the Post Commissioners as well. Even though it wasn’t further discussed during their meeting, Paris confirmed that it was mentioned in discussions.

However, Paris also said, “I’ve indicated that I’m fine where I am,” adding that he was focused on the Post Commissioners at this time, the Chairman not being the priority of the discussions.

Clark also agreed with the change to 20% as he said it was probably a truth that “for every five days the chairman works, a post probably works one day of that week” through their time spent fielding phone calls and their other responsibilities.

He likened the county to $20 million company saying that in order to seek out those willing to put in the time and effort into managing that, you need to invest in them.

If completed in this manner, it was estimated that this could become active in May.

The board is continuing the discussion on the topic this month and into the November Meeting of the board. Alongside the new information that it would affect Miller as well, it also pushes back the raise for newcomer Karleen Ferguson to May as well, a change from the expected entrance at the new pay scale.

Breaking down the numbers, this change would affect the base salary calculations. According to Paris, his base salary that affects all of this as Chairman is $71,253.78.

Taking that number, the current Post Commissioner Base Salary, before any supplements or bonuses, would be $7,125.38. However, adding the increase would shift this to $14,250.76 annual salary before supplements or bonuses. On top of these, the Post Commissioners are added for costs of living and other certifications.

Chairman Paris officially told FYN that they are would wait until the 2019 session to put this bill forward. They would not be interested in adding it into the November Special Session.

Even with this set in the early 2019 legislative session, it could be only a half-year change as it would not take effect until the Governor signs it. Paris noted this could mean a June or July change.

Additionally, Paris also noted that this is not the first time the county has used this option, having previously changed the coroner’s salary in the same fashion years ago.

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BOC Sets Millage

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners held their Special Called Meeting in which discussion of the county’s Millage Rate and decisions were made.

Considered their calculations of accepting the Rollback Rate at 6.370, the generalized budget for the county would wind up relatively the same, with only a possible $10,000 difference over what they collected this year.

With the continued growth in Gilmer County, Post Commissioner Dallas Miller noted it was one of the bigger rollbacks he has seen. He also noted the Rollback Rate represented over $800,000 dollars in budget difference to the county.

The county has not increased or decreased its Millage Rate in several years, maintaining 6.983 in since 2015.

Miller suggested to the board that he believed they should continue maintaining the current millage rate. Repeating their same argument against the state directive of Rollback Rate and what is called a tax increase, the board as a whole agreed upon the unfairness of calling it a tax increase when they maintain the same rate.

Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch commented on the rate saying they could “split the difference” and lower the rate slightly without going all the way to the Rollback. He went on to note that last year, the commissioners had to cut $2.5 million from the county’s initial proposed budget.

Crouch took a moment to ask Commission Chairman Charlie Paris how he felt this year’s budget would compare.

Paris responded by saying, “That we will probably have to cut a bit more. That’s been the trend.”

Agreeing with Paris, Crouch noted he held similar expectations. The board heard similar arguments from department heads including Public Works Director Jim Smith who noted the increasing costs in gravel and stone. Paris agreed, noting increases to diesel, gas, and salaries as well.

The opposing discussion came from Paris as he said he believes the biggest issue he gets calls on in the county is roads. However, looking at the choice between the services and taxes, he said he felt the citizens would be more dissatisfied with what is called a “tax increase.” He admitted that he was mixed emotions on the topic, but confessed he would come down on accepting the rollback.

Ultimately, as discussion began circling to repetition, a motion came from Dallas Miller to maintain the 6.983 millage rate. Crouch seconded the motion leading to a 2-1 vote with Charlie Paris as the dissenting vote.

The bond millage vote also approved maintaining the current rate with a unanimous 3-0 vote.

Moving forward on this decision, the board will begin advertising the rate before the formal public hearings on the millage rate, and then on to the final adoption.

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East Ellijay Council continues millage and SPLOST

News

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Finances became a main focus in a late June meeting of the East Ellijay City Council as they addressed the city’s tax exemption and the new intergovernmental SPLOST referendum.

While simply continuing what has been in effect for East Ellijay for years, the city still needed an official motion for continuing the 3.5 mills on the rate as well as the longtime waiving of personal property tax of citizens as well as the commercial tax for all entities and individuals owning or operating businesses in the city limits.

Approved by the council, the city continues this practice throughout its coming fiscal year.

The Council also approved the new SPLOST split presented by the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners. Moving East Ellijay’s percentage from 1.93% to 2.0%. Noted in the meeting for the council members. East Ellijay Mack West spoke with the council about the meetings he attended and the slight change in percentage.

The Council summarily motioned and approved the agreement. As reported when the referendum was made ready for city approvals, citizens could be looking to see this vote in this year’s election cycles.

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BOE could final adopt FY 19 Budget Thursday

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Education has met its two meeting requirement and could be set to approve final adoption of their $43 million budget.

If adopted, the item will change from the tentative budget to the official FY 19 budget for the BOE. Any wishing to speak on the topic should contact the BOE before Thursday to sign up.

The budget is estimated to see a $2,996,931 shortcoming of Revenues under Expenditures draining the fund balance down to $17,403,069 but June 30, 2019.

Recent years have seen similar budgets set with millions over revenue, they have also seen the budget change drastically throughout the year. The FY 18 budget could see the Revenue under Expenditures reduced to $160,392 by the end of June according to a new amendment presented in the Boards June Work Session.

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