Stop talking like it’s over in Gilmer

Opinion
Gilmer TSPLOST

Much debate has been put forth on the topic of the TSPLOST tax in Gilmer County. And, either fortunately or unfortunately depending on your perspective and opinion, there is still much to come. Yet, it seems much of the arguments swirling over the topic center on the idea that its already done, and that’s just not true.

The Board of Commissioners has voted and approved the TSPLOST to appear on the ballot. That does not mean that this tax is already a done deal. There is a vote, there is a chance, there are weeks of opportunity. If you have any opinion on whether or not there is to be an extra penny on your sales tax in this county, if you have any thoughts on this topic, then there is a chance to make your choice. Even if you have never voted in an election before, even if you think it doesn’t matter who sits in a seat on congress 65 miles away in Atlanta or 650 miles away in Washington D.C., this is the time to directly influence one tax that directly affects you.

There is no reason we should be treating this TSPLOST like its already passed. Even members of the board themselves have at least said they don’t care if it passes or not. The topic at hand is if you want to pay more now to accomplish something quicker. Sooner or Later?

There has been a mass of information offered on the subject from its official inception at a town hall meeting to debates on the efficacy to negotiations with the city to plans for the road department. While they continue to deliberate the deeper details defining this discretional tax, you as a citizen are the one who definitively determines the destiny of this decision. Do not take this as done deal.

There is time as the Commissioners finalize the ballot question and projects attached to it for citizens to continue speaking for or against the TSPLOST. There is time to consider the benefits of it as well as the costs. But this is coming to the ballot and being voted on. Not offering your vote is simply a statement that you do not care. You do not care about your money. And it’s not a statement to the government, it is not a statement to the Board of Commissioners that you don’t care. It is a statement to yourself, that you are passive. You are a sheep, and you will allow these people to impose anything they want on you.

If you support it and you want to see progress sooner and are willing to pay for it, then vote that way. If you are against it, and you see it as impatience of those unwilling to wait for it, then vote that way. More importantly, discuss it, talk with people. Share your thoughts and ideas. Debate and convince each other. Do not let anger overtake the debate, but instead understand and counterpoint. And stop talking like this topic is already closed.

Author

Further details on the 2020 TSPLOST vote

News

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – With some citizens’ concerns rising over the coming vote for the 2020 TSPLOST, more details are emerging about the tax, what it will be used for, and what items will bear the tax.

According to the Single County TSPLOST Guide document posted by the ACCG (Association County Commissioners of Georgia), there are six items that are exempt from taxation on the law. (See O.C.G.A 48-8-269)

• The sale or use of any type of fuel used for off-road heavy-duty equipment, off-road farm or agricultural
equipment, or locomotives;
• The sale or use of jet fuel to or by a qualifying airline at a qualifying airport;
• The sale or use of fuel that is used for propulsion of motor vehicles on the public highways*;
• The sale or use of energy used in the manufacturing or processing of tangible goods primarily for resale;
• The sale or use of motor fuel for public mass transit; or
• The purchase or lease of any motor vehicle

As stated in their website, “ACCG is a nonprofit instrumentality of Georgia’s county governments. Formed in 1914 with 19 charter county members, today ACCG serves as the consensus building, training, and legislative organization for all 159 county governments in the state.”

So while vehicle purchases and most fuel purchases are exempt from the sales tax, it seems that all other purchases are included. It is our understanding that this does also include basic bills like groceries, water, propane fuel, electricity, and even cable and internet as they are not listed in the exemptions.

Furthermore, Gilmer Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris offered a few more insights as FYN received answers to a few questions after a Special Called Meeting in January.

Paris has noted across several meetings the progress the road department has made in recent years and the progress still needed to be in the shape he wants them to be. He has also stated that he doesn’t personally mind if the 2020 TSPLOST passes or not as he sees that progress continuing in that department. Rather, Paris has stated that he feels the TSPLOST is an answer to a rising issue as people are wanting to see more immediate results and progress. The TSPLOST, according to Paris, can accomplish in 5 years what will happen over the next 25 years.

This time, Paris offers a few more details as he says the county will be looking to pave gravel roads with the TSPLOST, thereby reducing the costs of maintaining these gravel roads. Paris said, “The end objective is, at the end of that 5 years, to have a road system that is in good enough shape and requires little enough maintenance that we can maintain it properly with the resources that we have.”

2020 TSPLOSTMany times he has noted how heavy rains devastate some of the gravel roads in the county which adversely affects the Road Department’s efforts and schedule to maintain all 500 miles of roads in the county.

The main focus of this TSPLOST is actually becoming clearer to transform the Road Department. Paris says that by paving the gravel roads, they would change from having motor-graders to pothole patchers, from attempting to do everything for roads to contracting asphalt paving and focusing the Road Department on tar and chip paving, and from one central road department to quadrant bases focused on their sections of the county.

On that last point, Paris said, “Ideally, what I would like to have, would be a base in all four quadrants of the county and have that base work exclusively within that quadrant… We can’t do that right now. We don’t have the resources to set up those bases. We don’t have the equipment to man four bases.”

Paris went on to say that an option with the 2020 TSPLOST could help set up those bases if they decide to take that direction. However, the idea is unfeasible currently as the county would need the workers and a lot more equipment to spread around the county than it currently possesses. Paris did call this option an ideal situation and something to work towards.

 

Author

TSPLOST negotiations highlight cities’ split

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Paving roads and the amount of spending came into debate as the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners met with Mayors and members of City Hall from both Ellijay and East Ellijay today to discuss TSPLOST negotiations.

The discussion centered on the split that each entity wanted to see with the upcoming possible TSPLOST tax. Each entity vied for an increase to their portion over and above what they got for the previous SPLOST split. Debate arose around the idea of the cities increasing to a flat 2 percent for East Ellijay and 6 percent for Ellijay. This would be up from the 1.93 percent that East Ellijay has with the SPLOST split and up from 5.72 percent that Ellijay has.

However, as the discussion progressed, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said he also wanted the county’s percentage to go up considering the 500 miles of road in the unincorporated parts of the county, roads maintained by the county.

The two mayors countered with arguments of their own. Mayor of Ellijay, Al Hoyle noted that many of the roads they maintain in the city are used more than those in the outer parts as people travel out of town on city-maintained roads to reach the county roads.

East Ellijay Mayor Mack West added to the notion saying that East Ellijay has a constant need for Eller Road as an example. Due to the high traffic and usage, the road is already showing cracks after only three years since paving.

However, the topic ultimately came to rest at proceeding with the same split that each entity sees on the normal SPLOST, Gilmer County receives 92 percent, Ellijay receives 5.72 percent, and East Ellijay receives 1.93 percent.

However, the negotiations of percentage were not the only discussion held in the meeting as citizens debated the TSPLOST in the Citizens Wishing to Speak section.

Bill Craig, of North Georgia Diamond, voiced his opinion that the retail business community may have been left out of the discussion on the topic. Saying that the county hasn’t considered the impact to businesses that more sales tax might have. He offered scenarios to consider that people visiting might go elsewhere or stop early to buy groceries or similar necessities if they visit Ellijay, or that someone might visit another county to buy larger items like his store provides, being jewelry and diamonds.

While Paris did say he met with one retailer privately to discuss the topic, Craig repeated that he felt the county had not done enough to understand the business impact.

Mayor West commented on possible impact saying if he was going to buy something like a diamond, he would shop with North Georgia Diamond over driving to Atlanta for only a $100 difference, coming from the 1 percent sales tax increase.

Craig went on to say that adding TSPLOST would make Gilmer one of the highest sales tax percentages in the state.

Georgia Sales and Use Tax Rate Chart - Gilmer TSPLOST Negotiations

Georgia Sales and Use Tax Rate Chart

In fact, according to the Georgia Sales and Use Tax Rate Chart (pictured to the right) published, for January 2020, by the Georgia Department of Revenue, of the 159 counties in Georgia, just over half of them have an 8 percent sales tax.

Actually, 83 counties have an 8 percent sales tax, while 69 counties (including Gilmer) have a 7 percent sales tax, 4 counties have a 6 percent sales tax, and only one county, Ware County, has a 9 percent sales tax. This does exclude Fulton and DeKalb counties with split sales tax in parts of the county according to this document.

Also, there are 87 counties that currently have some form of a TSPLOST, whether it is the original state TSPLOST or a locally added TSPLOST after that statewide vote.

Looking more specifically to the Highway 515 corridor, as some have called it, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, and Union Counties all, currently, have a sales tax rate of 7 including LOST (Local Option Sales Tax), SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax), and ESPLOST (Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax).

One more comment of major note came from Chairman Paris who said, “I’m fine with it either way,” when discussing if the TSPLOST will pass on the ballots. Paris admitted a large amount of pressure on him from the public. He has stated in previous meetings that he feels the road department and the county’s roads are progressing. He ultimately simplified the discussion and the TSPLOST vote as he summed it up by saying its a decision on if we want our roads fixed over the next 25 years or the next 5 years. The TSPLOST, as he described, is simply a way to achieve the same results faster.

 

Author

TSPLOST debate moves to include cities

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners is advertising a meeting early in the new year with the city governments of Ellijay and East Ellijay.

This Special Called Meeting, set for January 7, 2020, at 10 a.m., has only one agenda item, “Discussion and possible action of Intergovernmental Agreement for a proposed T-SPLOST with the Cities of Ellijay and East Ellijay.”

Recent months have seen the TSPLOST progress from an idea in the Roads and Bridges Town Hall to approval to be on the ballot in less than two months.

The meeting is actually set the day before the county is set to hold its January Workshop, scheduled for January 8, 2019, at 9 a.m.

While not fully confirmed, the county has held similar meetings in the past when discussing their SPLOST renewal in 2018 where they negotiated each of the cities’ percentage that they would take from the tax. At that time, it was confirmed that the county could have moved forward without the cities, but noted several benefits to cooperating and negotiating their involvement.

With the TSPLOST, there has been no specific discussion on the need, benefits, or reason for involving the cities since the Board already approved the TSPLOST to go for a vote on the ballots without them. However, County Attorney David Clark did say at that meeting that the county needed to finalize details and work on a few more items before they would be ready to put it on the ballot.

In any scenario, at this time, it appears the county will be reaching out to the cities for their support of or involvement in the TSPLOST in the coming week.

Author

TSPLOST vote will be on ballot in 2020

News
Gilmer County BOC

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A unanimous vote this week from the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners (BOC) gave final approval to put a new tax of TSPLOST to public vote in the new year as they prepare to address Roads and Bridges issues.

The new tax will be a TSPLOST (Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) specifically designed to bring in new funding to address the 501 miles of paved roads within Gilmer County that the county is responsible for paving and maintaining.

Citizens have been debating this issue in earnest since November 13 when a Roads and Bridges town hall meeting turned to a TSPLOST discussion after Commission Chairman Charlie Paris put the idea forth saying he could not find any alternative to address the issues as quickly as people have been wanting. However, the discussion has been going in the BOC since budget sessions and talks of shrinking the contingency fund in late October and early November.

This week, the Chairman said that the recent Post 1 Commissioner campaign really “stirred the pot.” The campaign highlighted an issue that many people understood that progress was being made slowly. Now, people are getting more vocal about the issues. Paris said, “And they’re right. We need to do something about this.”

The board appears to agree that raising the millage rate to fund the roads is completely out of the question. Instead of raising the taxes of the millage rate, a new TSPLOST tax is coming forward to be voted on by the public.

As discussion from the work session continued on the TSPLOST, the commissioners discussed the difference between the TSPLOST and continuing as-is. The major note came to be speed. Paris has stated several times since November that he believes the progress will continue as they strengthen the road department. Paris said this week that a TSPLOST will allow us to accomplish over the next 5 years what we will accomplish over the next 25 years.

Also mentioned in the meeting, Paris said he believes the option of bonding the TSPLOST is out. He explained that if approved the county will pursue rights of way, begin collections that are allocated quarterly, and citizens would really see a big effort increase in the Road Department by Spring of 2021. In fact, Paris said later in the meeting, “If these folks approve this TSPLOST, I am going to be paving in the Spring of 2021.”

This discussion also restated Paris’ desire to switch future projects in the county to start bidding out asphalt paving projects across LMIG and new projects and having the Road Department continue with tar and chip and other roads.

County Attorney David Clark urged the commissioners to continue talks in the coming months to focus and list all possible projects for the TSPLOST as the discussion has ignored the bridge issues in the county, many of which have come from failures in the maintenance of those bridges

Paris clarified that while they have not been specifically mentioned, thoughts for bridges has definitely been on his mind.

Still, Clark said the board should get their projects set and details set before the county puts the option on the ballot for public vote as the public needs to know everything possible and everything being considered in a TSPLOST.

With approval to be put on the ballot done, many questions are still out there on the topic. Paris mentioned wanting more town halls on the TSPLOST for specific regions of the county to ‘go to the people.’ He explained that he wanted to make it far easier for those in the local area to attend and discuss the topic, holding four different meetings in four different sections of Gilmer.

Additionally, estimated collections are still to be calculated and details worked out for the coming vote.

Newly elected Post 1 Commissioner, Hubert Parker also spoke in the meeting saying, “You’ve identified the situation and the options. SPLOST is the only tax I know of where the voters have a direct voice rather than going through an elected representative. So, I think it’s up to them…”

Author

Commissioners advertise 2020 budget

News
County 2020 budget

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is moving into the final stages of its budget process as official approval for the advertisement of the 2020 budget came in November.

Coming from the original proposals and requests for each department, the county has cut more than a million dollars to achieve the budget’s current form. Now, with approval to advertise, the county will look to adopt the budget in December, just in time for the start of the 2020 calendar year.

With the board now back to its original three-person format, no resurgence in the budget has come from newly elected Post Commissioner Hubert Parker who was present for most of those original budget meetings as a citizen after qualifying for the election.

November itself saw one last hurdle as the board looked for its last few cuts to balance the budget, considering a smaller contingency fund to make up the difference.

The final form is being advertised as thus:

One item not included in the budget as advertised was raised in recent talks over roads and bridges with citizens where the BOC put forth the idea of a TSPLOST for the county to answer citizen concerns over road issues.

The budget is set to advertise through the beginning of December, citizens can comment on the budget during December’s regular meetings at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, December 11, 2019, and 6 p.m. on Thursday, December 12, 2019.

 

Author

BOC Advertises 2019 Millage

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With August fast approaching, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners (BOC) has officially approved the advertisement of their Millage Rate for the year.

Accepting the Rollback Rate at 6.898 mills, a 0.085 mill drop from the current 6. 983, the Commissioners will still realize a decrease of $119,582 between the two rates, according to Financial Officer Sandi Holden.

The Rollback Rate was not the first motion, however. Post Commissioner Dallas Miller first made a motion to maintain the current millage rate despite the state forcing them to call it an increase saying, “For the last five years… we have held that same millage rate constant. I like that and I believe that is some good history because we have fought the battle through the depression and recession and things… We have done what I consider the best job we knew how to do managing what money we get from our citizens.”

Miller went on to say there was only one reason to not keep the current rate. The same debate they have gone through every year at the time to set millage rate. The state forces the county to call it a tax increase even though they do not increase the rate.

Miller also noted that the Board of Commissioners and the Tax Assessors are separated on taxes. Miller made certain to note that even if the Commissioners accept the Rollback Rate, it doesn’t mean that no citizen will see a tax increase from their assessments.

Commission Chairman Charlie Paris countered with a similarly repeated thought over the past years when he said that if he did vote to accept what would be called a tax increase, he wanted it to be worth more than what this rollback represents.

As the first motion failed due to the lack of a second, Paris made a motion to accept the Rollback Rate. It was seconded and approved 2-1 with Miller being the dissenting vote.

While discussion did move to the possibility of lowering the Bond Millage with the improving economic health in the county, the official motion came to maintain the rate as it currently sits.

Author

Tax Assessors Roll Back Decision on Elderly Tax Exemption Changes

Board of Assessors, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Tax Assessors voted to roll back their recent decision on House Bill 1383, which was given the green light during their meeting held on Thursday, June 20, 2019.

This bill ultimately determines what structures on a property are exempt for those 65 years of age or older in regards to the Gilmer County school district ad valorem taxes.

The board did as they informed the public they would do and got advice from Attorney Joe Scheuer of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia regarding the interpretation of the law.

In a three-page document to the board, Scheuer stated that “I believe this question involves a determination that must be made on a case by case basis locally”, but went on to say that “Homestead includes the following qualifications: The actual permanent place of residence, where the building is occupied primarily as a dwelling. In other words, with respect to the home, the exemption is limited to that structure so that attached structures are included; garage, deck, etc. Other structures, such as detached garages, gazebos, etc. are not included. Detached structures, to my knowledge, have never been included as part of the building which is occupied as the primary dwelling, or at least they were not supposed to have been included.”

However, because what this attorney says differs from what the state legislative liaison has said on the matter, County Attorney David Clark believes the board needs an opinion from the attorney general.

Ultimately, due to the two conflicting readings and two entirely different opinions as to how the tax code should be implemented, the board voted in favor of rolling back the decision to uphold the new changes, continuing with the way things were in 2018 until the board receives further clarification.

The issue with this decision, as the board pointed out, is that structures of business such as chicken houses, barns, etc. will be exempt of the school system taxes as they were in 2018.

But because of the deadlines involved, the board decided it would still be easier just to go with the 2018 interpretation without modification.

No further public mailings are required on behalf of the board because of this decision.

The board will be re-examining the definitions of the bill in the near future and hopes to have a definitive interpretation by 2020, so be sure to stay tuned for future updates!

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