Amending the county’s budget amendments

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Budget adjustments are some things the county has grown accustomed to over the years as the Board of Commissioners continue running the county through unexpected expenses throughout the year.

A disputation arose in the board’s April meetings when the subject of amending the county’s 2017 budget for final amendments was discussed. While the county has moved to less amendments over the last few years in an effort to make the budget audits look better, Post Commissioner Dallas Miller began the debate saying he felt the amendments degraded the integrity of the budget and made much of the work that the commissioners and their staff completed meaningless.

Every month, the commissioners’ Financial Officer Sandi Holden delivers an update on the budget. When adjustments come before the commissioners, if they approve the amendment, they have typically agreed on amending the budget, but put off the official resolution so they are not continually amending the budget over and over throughout the year.

Miller called the budget a “promise” to the county about their plans for the coming year. He went on to say the budget was meaningless as they “zero” the budget at year’s end, effectively rewarding those over budget.

The budget has been a point of contention over the last two years in the board as countless hours are spent near year’s end on preparing for the next year. This month’s discussion on the budget grew into two topics as Post Commissioner Travis Crouch branched the discussion into another point when he mentioned that the commissioners approve unexpected expenditures and he felt they should reflect that so as not to “punish” those who may be over their original budget, but due to a commissioner-approved expense. Crouch said that approving the amendments in April expose some of these departments and offices to appear over budget in reports for numerous months before they are finally changed.

Crouch noted the county’s recent un-budgeted expenditures, including those for the deputy to supervise inmate trash pickup as well as a change in probation funding for the three-county organization. Crouch said, “It’s not a perfect science,” but pushed for more amendments throughout the year to reflect those changes.

Delving deeper into the issues, the concerns of departments heads echoed Crouch’s concerns saying they hoped the county would respect those who stay under budget by amending their budgets with those approved by the board during the year.

Finalizing their approval at their regular session, the commissioners approved the amendments on which they had agreed throughout 2017, movement of funds to contingency, and agreed to move forward with quarterly amendments instead of one or two per year to more compromise between keeping the number of amendments through the year lower and keeping the monthly report as real and up-to-date as possible.

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UNG gets state funds for new campus

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – In a recent interview on FYNTV, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston made an announcement regarding the University of North Georgia’s (UNG) Blue Ridge campus.

Ralston confirmed in the interview that the state has set $5.5 million into a line item to establish a new standalone “brick and mortar” building for the university. The budgeted funds are set for construction only, meaning that the university will be responsible for locating and acquiring a spot suitable for the new campus. Once the college purchases the location, they can utilize the state funds for their new building to expand into that new home in Fannin County.

As such, the location of this facility is yet to be determined. According to Campus Director of Blue Ridge for UNG, Sandy Ott, she hopes to begin construction as soon as possible. Ott spoke with FetchYourNews (FYN) about the fund allocation saying, “We are thrilled with the opportunity to expand the Blue Ridge campus. We are so excited for the opportunities for the students in our region. This is going to have an impact, truly.”

Ott noted some of the major capabilities that a standalone campus will allow including expanded course offerings, lab spaces for sciences and core classes, as well as development space to cater to the region’s specific needs. While college officials are still searching for the best location at this time, Ott confirmed that they are still very early in the process and uncertain if the new standalone campus will see them completely leaving their current location just off of 515 at 83 Dunbarton Farm Road.

UNG has been at that location since 2015, offering opportunities such as dual-enrollment courses for high school students, a full-time program for first-time freshmen, courses for adult learners getting started or returning to college, and continued education programs.

With the passing of the state’s budget, this is now set for UNG to utilize when available. Ott assures FYN they are moving quickly to take advantage of the funds to increase their services as soon as possible for students. See more by checking out the announcement at 14 minutes into FYNTV’s video below.

 

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Joint Development Authority preps for 2018

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority (JDA) held a special meeting Dec. 12 to finalize items before the new year.

The Authority is filling a gap made last year as the seventh, at-large, member was needed to be appointed. While Penelope Marshall has served in the position, it turns out that no official resolution was ever made. While the JDA reappointed Marshall to the position, it must now go before the other entities of the two cities and the county to be approved by them as well before finalization.

The approval to the position officially lists Marshall as finishing the rest of the term for the next three years.

The JDA also approved their 2018 budget with the major changes of having the executive director employed by the JDA itself now. The smaller budget of the Authority reportedly will allow $15,109  for marketing and $7,500 for travel and entertainment, according to Greater Gilmer JDA Executive Director Kent Sanford. These main two items are what the JDA uses to grow and expand business.

Sanford mentioned at the meeting that the Authority’s immediate plan with the budget compared to “ground game” in football. He spoke about the restriction from finances meant taking every step one at a time and working on smaller gains in the near future to build into more growth.

The JDA also approved their regular meeting dates for 2018. Those approved meetings will be held on Feb. 5, May 7, Aug. 6, and Nov. 5. Each meeting is to be held at 8 a.m. at the Gilmer Chamber Office, 696 1st Ave in East Ellijay.

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Commissioners to Conclude Ball Fields Project

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With the approval of their resolution at their March 10th meeting, the Board of Commissioners will be funding the remaining amount of work required for the Clear Creek Ball fields from their SPLOST funds. This became a topic for debate in the county as Dallas Miller spoke against a budget amendment and also voted against it saying, “You can have my salary, I don’t care.”
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With the 2-1 split vote, Dallas Miller answered his own comment and stated he appreciated and wanted to go ahead with completing the ball fields, but as he said in his comment, he voted in effort to find another way to fund it besides adding extra funds to it from the county’s finances.

DSC05760While the Commissioners were hopeful the original budget would have been enough, Chairman Paris stated he had always expected some extra funding would be needed. He also noted that with well over $650,000 dedicated to the project that he could recall, that was all donated proceeds and the County itself has added very little to no funding to the project as a whole. With this amendment, the county has now added $70,000 to the remaining $34,500 in the project budget to cover the expected $100,000 remaining work.

The majority of tasks left involve roofing several dugouts, laying concrete around the concessions and driveway, and sodding the fields. As the sod goes down, it will require another two to three weeks to set before any games can be played.

The completion of the concessions stand, bathrooms, and press box also leaves room for two unused rooms that can be multi-functional and a space for a heating and air systems in the future.

DSC05779Commission Chairman Charlie Paris further assured citizens that, though it won’t be at the beginning of the season, he expects we will be seeing games played on the Clear Creek Ball Fields this year, going so far as to say, “I’m gonna have a ribbon cutting in April. It may be April 30th, but I am going to be cutting that ribbon in April.”

Chairman Paris stated this was an expected shortage since November for the Commissioners, but he wants to complete the project as promised to the citizens.

This project has become an eight-year project since its first inception going through the initial funding that was dedicated from the sale of the GO Bonds that was redirected to other projects, then revitalized with fund raisers such as State Funding of $560,000 garnered by Speaker David Ralston.

DSC05750The project will finally reach conclusion this year. However, there are still projects on the fields for future consideration such as paving the parking lot or, according to Chairman Paris, a possible location for a future pool that citizens have also been requesting.

 

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