Newly-adopted bill ignores certain structures from elderly tax exemptions

Board of Assessors, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – House Bill 1383 was the topic of much debate during the Board of Tax Assessor’s meeting on Thursday, June 20, 2019.

Up until adoption of this bill, those who were 65 years of age or older were exempt from paying the Gilmer County school district ad valorem taxes on their property.

This is still in place. However, this no longer exempts structures that are not considered to be the primary dwelling place of the property owner.

As Chief Appraised Theresa Gooch explained, the interpretation of this bill “Does not include any buildings not attached to the primary residence. It still exempts 100% on the primary home, all of the land and any structures that are attached by a common roof line.”

In short, structures not attached to your home by the roof line are no longer tax exempt.

This would include structures such as wood sheds, barns, out houses, green houses, etc. Whereas in the past, all structures on the entire property were exempt.

According to County Attorney David Clark, “the state is the entity that has guided the board to the specific definition as to what constitutes a homestead.”

The board explained “No one here was associated with the implementation of this bill in ’08. But it was implemented simply by applying the exemption to anyone over 65 who applied for appeals and asked for a homestead. Chicken houses, business’, etc. things that clearly didn’t belong in a homestead were caught up in it. The chicken houses and business’ were cleaned up shortly after that ’08 thing. I don’t even recall what brought this to our attention. But the law says under the definition of the state statute that the dwelling is the exempt item. The land and the residence.”

When asked why it took so long for the board to bring this up, they responded that they honestly weren’t sure, and that it just didn’t come to their attention prior.

Many citizens present were very against this change, however.

Many are concerned that the board simply wants nothing more than to tax them more, with one citizen stating “My neighbor has the same roof line. He has a horse barn. Now we’re not taxing it because it shares the same roof line? What’s next? I move my daughter in the basement, now I’m not occupying it, she is, so you’re going to tax my basement for that? That’s where we could go if we continue to let you erode our rights here. This isn’t right. Let’s stay where we’re at. Manage the money we already give you, and not try to take more away from us. It’s difficult enough as it is living on a fixed income.”

The board voted in favor of this bill under the grounds that they have no choice at this point in time due to digest and submission process timelines.

However, citizens have until Monday, July 1, 2019 to file an appeal with the board, which will likely go to the Board of Equalization and potentially the superior court.

The board also states that they will re-address this issue and give full clarification from the proper state authorities by Tuesday, January 1, 2020.

Stay tuned for developments on this bill as they become known!

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BOE budget rises in 2019

News
Gilmer BOE 2019

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Final approval for the 2020 Tentative Budget came this week with the vote by the Gilmer County Board of Education (BOE).

The board approved its $44 million budget unanimously after the last two months of work. This budget will be a $1,674,852 increase over the FY19 budget (as presented in June 2018). This is also a $4,852780 increase over the FY18 budget (as presented in June 2017).

Looking back over the past budgets since 2016, tuition costs alone have increased by between $500,000 to $600,000 each year except this one, showing a $1,456,345 increase since last year.

The budget also estimates  $3,060,919 of expenditures over the Board’s revenue, further draining the board’s fund balance, estimated to sit at $14,839,081 in June of 2020. However, in some previous years, such the 2017-18, these expenses turned out to fall closer to even than predicted as the tentative budget expected to fall to $19.4 million, but actually only lost around $100,000 by fiscal year’s end.

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Tax Tips! with Beth Bennett: Filing Deadline is April 15th

Announcements, Business

Beth goes over the penalties associated with not filing by the deadline and educates the viewers on IRA’s vs Roth IRA’s.

Tax Tips! with Beth Bennett – Deadlines Are Approaching

Business

Beth and Crystal join the show to give an update on the tax season and talk about upcoming deadlines.

Auto-Renewal will go forward with Chamber Contract

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A not-unexpected turn of events saw the Board of Commissioners (BOC) strike the two items from their agenda on Thursday that involved an Audit and a Contract Termination for the Gilmer Chamber.

Despite this, it doesn’t mean the end of this issue between the two entities. With both sides having agreed that the Hotel/Motel Tax usage by the Chamber is required to have an audit, and moving forward imposing that requirement, a major issue is being resolved. However, it doesn’t mean that citizens won’t be hearing about the issue again in coming sessions.

As Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson stated in their work session, she is wanting to look deeper at the Chamber, the date of the automatic contract renewal, and the Hotel/Motel Tax split. Though most of the discussion at the work session centered on clarifying “if” and “why” a termination would be required to renegotiate the contract and look at some of the expectations from both parties, the lasting issue is still persisting.

Chamber President Paige Green provided a prepared statement on behalf of the Chamber which asked them to reconsider the termination. But much of its points also addressed the issue of changing the split. One sentence stated, “Defunded or reduced funding towards those efforts or even extended negotiation period without resolution will have immediate and long term effects on the great work that has been done to bring us to this point in time.”

Her statement also reaffirms the Chambers commitment to “an open dialogue this year and to answer any questions you have in regards to our efforts.”

The commissioners did not vote down the termination, however. As previously reported in “Chamber Contract in question at BOC,” Ferguson stated several times during the work session that she thought termination was the only way to renegotiate the contract with its pending automatic renewal. Instead of voting down the termination, all three commissioners unanimously approved an agenda change to remove the items from the agenda with the clarification that it was agreed that the audit was required and would start being provided.

This leaves the state of the Gilmer Chamber in a flux of moving forward with an automatic renewal schedule to take effect next week, but knowing that 2019 will be a year in review as the Commissioners look closer at the Hotel/Motel Tax and the Chamber in general.

Ferguson noted during the work session that the Gilmer Chamber holds one of the highest Hotel/Motel tax split-percentages in the state. It was also noted by several chamber members and chamber board members that the Gilmer Chamber was also noted by people across the state as one of the best and most effective chambers.

As both entities move forward in the year, the discussion of the underlying issue will arise. For now, the preamble comes to a close avoiding what Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said would have been “a very, very serious mistake for Gilmer County.”

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Chamber contract in question at BOC

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the vote still set to be made, current indications are saying that the Gilmer Chamber may dodge a termination of their contract with the Board of Commissioners (BOC).

The vote is set for tomorrow’s, January 10, Regular Meeting agenda. The subject matter, however, is a layover from the recent months when former Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch began questioning the Hotel/Motel Tax Split during the 2019 budget process. Now, new Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson has taken up the banner to continue the discussion and added an item to the agenda for termination of the contract.

“I’m just asking for time,” said Ferguson as she explained that she fully respects the Chamber and what they have accomplished but feels that something is wrong. Stating that she wants the time to look into the Chamber further before an automatic renewal date comes next week, Ferguson did later clarify that it was her understanding from legal counsel that termination was the only way to renegotiate the contract.

With nothing short of an uproar of concern from present Chamber Members and Board Members of the Chamber, a heated debate began regarding the impact and possible outcomes of a termination of the contract, even if later renegotiated. Several citizens commented on the subject including Chamber Board Chairman Trent Sanford who noted that negotiations could come without termination. He also noted an occurrence when this happened three years ago when the contract was renegotiated without a termination.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris noted that he was adamantly opposed to terminating the contract.

Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller was more in favor of changes to the contract, but did note he wanted to find a way to do it without terminating the contract.

Ultimately, it’s not even clear if Ferguson will push the issue of termination as she repeatedly stated she thought that was the only way to renegotiate the contract with its pending automatic renewal.

Citizens may not need to wait long into the meeting to find out, though, as Paris said he felt the issue was resolved and would be seeking to remove the item of contract termination from tomorrow’s agenda while leaving the item regarding Chamber audits and discussions of contract renegotiation open.

Both entities, the BOC and Chamber Board, agreed that the contract did stipulate that Hotel/Motel Tax Audits be done. The Chamber stated they have already begun the process to adhere to the imposing of that contract requirement.

Follow FYN as we go deeper into the subject’s details after tomorrow’s vote at the 6 p.m. public meeting open to all citizens.

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Board splits on Hotel/Motel

News, Police & Government

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.”

Chamber President/CEO Paige Green

Chamber President/CEO Paige Green

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.

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BOE final decisions on Buses and Millage

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Education formally accepted their 2018 Millage Rate this week with unanimous approval from the present board members.

The final vote came 4-0, Nick Weaver was absent, on Thursday, August 23, setting the rate at 14.458 mills for the year.

After discussing the rate on Monday’s Work Session and over the last month since their July Meeting, where Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs informed the board that their calculated rollback rate was 14.458 mills, decreasing from 2017’s 16.12 mill., the final decision lowered the rate by 1.662 over last year.

Downs mentioned in the board’s regular session that no citizens have commented on the Rollback Rate this year or the boards advertisement of it over the last month.

Continuing along the financial discussions, a bid for two extra buses was approved. Coming from extra funding the state found and spread among school systems, this unexpected item set the board with an opportunity to try a different engine. Originally, Director of Operations Bob Sosebee’s Bid Analysis offered the board the bids for both a diesel engine bus and a gasoline bus.

Sosebee said in the meeting that he wanted to offer the board the option of trying gasoline buses instead of diesel with this extra funding as a trend is beginning to see other school systems do similar. Mentioning emissions and testing stresses on the increase, causing a major increase in time spent on repairs, as one point pushing to change, he presented three company’s bids including both engines. the bids include warranty’s on both engines.

The system currently runs its entire bus fleet on diesel engines. When asked for his recommendation, Sosebee suggested the board try the gas buses to be able to compare the two types. Ultimately, approval came from the board as they said they would be willing to use these, as the extra funding came in from the state, as a test pair.

While continuing to replace and grow the bus fleet, Downs noted the Board is still struggling to find bus drivers. Upon a request, Downs is moving forward of increasing the sign on bonus for new drivers from $500 to $1000. As the board discussed the rise and answers to problem, one suggestion arose that the board may look at possibly considering changing the salary as well. Though no real action came except to notify the board of increasing the sign on bonus, indications lean that we could learn more at next month’s meeting.

 

 

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