ELLIJAY, Ga. – Both cities and counties carry on amid the shutdown, and Gilmer is also moving forward in this time with their April meeting, but with a few changes.
Gilmer has already made changes over March as meetings saw a distancing line in the meeting room, and all meetings have been held in the Jury Assembly Room in the Gilmer County Courthouse. However, this month will see another change as the Board is only sending one agenda. Gilmer’s BOC will still meet is person, as of now, but will not be holding their usual work session.
Gilmer is continuing monitor situations during the shutdown and two agenda items stick out among the agenda as potential ramifications of the nations current situation.
Among the items is listed “Discussion and possible action to grant authority to the Tax Commissioner to waive Interest and Penalties” and “Discussion and possible action regarding the upcoming May General and Presidential Primaries.”
Elections have been a growing topic as we draw closer to May during a Presidential Election year which has, historically, been one of the highest turnout years for elections.
Not holding a work session, the public will be hearing discussion and votes in the same day for April. The rest of the meeting is set to proceed as normal with usual items like Citizens wishing to speak and the financial statement. The meeting will be held on Thursday, April 9, 2020, at 6 p.m., in the Jury Assembly Room of the Courthouse.
Gilmer County’s freshly restored-to-three Board of Commissioners is delving deep into talks with citizens on the topic of roads and bridges.
Going through town hall meetings, the discussion was originally advertised to hear citizens’ thoughts on roads and bridges. However, at the beginning of their first town hall, Commission Chairman Charlie Paris offered a few words of his own thoughts saying he receives numerous calls daily about the situation.
With 501 miles of roads in the county, Paris said just under 200 miles of that is unpaved gravel road. Paris noted the major problem with the gravel roads is that as soon as the county fixes a road, a heavy rain will destroy the repairs and work they have accomplished.
Even though they planned to move road to road with two teams across the county, these teams cannot follow schedules as Paris says he constantly tells them to respond to one complaint or another, whether it’s ditches or other worse gravel roads.
When trying to find an answer to these issues, Paris said he wants to pave more roads. While he points to the major improvements in the road department over the recent years, he admits the budget is not enough to accommodate everything he wants to do with and in the Road Department.
Paving roads in the county costs between $40,000 – $50,000 per mile for “tar and chip” according to Paris, asphalt paving is more costly at about $90,000 per mile. These costs do not include striping as the county does not stripe its own roads. However, Paris said another “wish” would be to begin looking for equipment and having the road department begin striping as it has been difficult to find companies recently to do the striping.
After paving and striping, maintenance also includes mowing of all 501 miles of road.
As he spoke about the costs of each need the county has for paving and the wants he verbalized for the department and the county, Paris said, “When I first took office, I could be heard to say many times, ‘We’re broke. We can’t do that, we’re broke.’ We’re not broke anymore, and I’m really proud of that. We’re in a good financial position…” Paris went on to note that some people have said to use reserves money to pave or to take the money from the larger budgets like Fire, EMA, or Sheriff. Paris noted that these budgets are all severely cut already during the budget process. He said taking enough from these other sources would cripple the departments just to make a little progress on the roads.
One of the biggest strains on the budget each year is, of course, the debt service for the county paying off its bond debt. Citizens have been contending with this situation for years. And More recently, they have dealt with the 1.5 mill bond millage. However, Paris did say that during the budget process this year, they had considered lowering this rate, and in fact are looking to take the bond millage in the 2020 budget down to 1.25 instead of 1.5 saying, “It was never intended to be a permanent extra half mill. We have projected in our 2020 budget that that will go down to a mill-and-a-quarter rather than a mill-and-a-half. With the idea that in the 2021 budget, it will go back down to a mill and the half mill will be gone.”
Returning to the subject at hand of roads and bridges, ultimately, Paris said he saw only three options for the county.
With 13 years left to pay on the bond debt service, the county can continue as it is, spending about a million dollars on paving a year and raise it after the debt is paid.
The second option would be to raise the millage rate, which Paris adamantly stated was not an option he would consider.
The third option Paris offered, was to enact a “local TSPLOST.” Paris said that several years ago, the county voted on a regional TSPLOST. Paris said he opposed that TSPLOST as it was a regional tax, usable in many of the other counties.
Many will recall what citizens at the time called a “punishment” for voting no, the matching funds for LMIG grants was raised from 10% to 30%. Paris said that even today, he would still adamantly oppose a regional TSPLOST.
What he proposed as a local TSPLOST, the stipulation would be that the money must be used for nothing outside of transportation. Usable for equipment purchases, paving, maintenance, and even road crew salary, Paris said he wouldn’t want to use it for salaries “because that TSPLOST will go away at some point and those salaries will still be there.”
A TSPLOST would be a 5-year program. As he noted this, Paris stated, “You have the option of renewing it after 5 years, my pledge is that I will never ask for a renewal if we do it one time.”
Paris said he has tried for other alternatives to get the roads in shape and maintain them but has yet to find a sufficient answer.
After his nearly 30 minute speech over the state of the county’s roads and road department, many of the citizens present offered their support for a TSPLOST. Towards the end of the meeting, Paris asked how many people would be willing to support it. Nearly every person attending raised their hand. In fact, only one person at the meeting opposed the TSPLOST.
Paris also asked another question during the meeting. Far fewer people, less than half of those present, supported the idea when Paris asked who would want to sell bonds on the TSPLOST to see a faster effect on the county’s roads. This second topic was actually originally raised by one citizen, John Schmidt, who asked how soon the citizens would see the option to vote on it and would begin seeing the changes as he said, “People, a lot of the time, we expect things to happen overnight.”
Paris said, “I have had it recommended to me that if this passes, that we go ahead and get a bond and do it all once and then pay for it with the TSPLOST. But, I’m not real big on doing that. I would kind of rather just let things sit for four or five months and let some money build up and then do it as it comes in.”
This is not the first time the Commissioners have spoken of the topic of a TSPLOST, but it is the first time it has been discussed with citizens as an actual option for the county to pursue. It could come as soon as the May ballot in 2020. Collections would begin on the first day of the next quarter.
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.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – After the August meeting of both the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education, the commissioners reconvened for final approval for the collection of both millage rates in Gilmer County.
The Gilmer County Board of Education approved its Rollback Rate of 14.248 mills generating $16.8 million according to estimations by Gilmer County Financial Officer Sandi Holden. This rate was approved unanimously by the Board of Commissioners for collection.
The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners approved its Rollback Rate of 6.898 mills generating about $9.7 million according to Holden. This rate was approved 2-1 by the board with Dallas Miller being the dissenting vote.
The Commissioners then approved the 1.5 mills bond rate for the county generating about $2 million according to Post Commissioner Dallas Miller.
The bond millage was called into question by local citizen Joene DePlancke who noted the county’s growth and bond refinancings that the county has done.
DePlancke said she wasn’t speaking in opposition to the 1 mill bond rate, but rather the extra half mill added later. She went on to say, “I think it is unfair to the citizens of this county to keep telling them you have to have [1.5 mill] for the bond payments when we collect more than enough from SPLOST to cover the refinanced bonds.”
Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris told DePlancke that the 2017 bond payment was significantly less due to the refinancing at the time. With that refinancing, that year’s payment was reduced, allowing the county to use the extra funds, but also having that payment show far less.
Paris went on to point out that the bond payments are continuing to increase as well. Both 2019 and 2020 will see increases. Holden said the 2020 payment is expected to total just over $4 million. The payments over the last few years could not be looked at, according to Paris, as a measure of what they will be going forward.
Paris also noted that the Commissioners had a discussion in their August meeting about reducing the half mill on the bond millage, but decided to keep it as the payments are increasing as well as facing major issues such as the leachate leakage at the county landfill. Paris said the commissioners ultimately decided to wait and revisit the idea of removing the half mill next year. Additionally, while the county could continue forward without the half mill and maintain the needs for bond payment and this landfill issue, they would have to abandon every plan and improvement planned for other areas like the road department.
DePlancke reiterated her concerns on the bond millage saying, “You’ll always have a reason to spend it… There are so many things that need to be done, but you put it on there for bond payment. I feel like that is not honest to the citizens. You’re using it for other things.”
Paris said he didn’t agree that they would never give the half mill back, but asked what DePlancke she would have the county do, if they dropped the half mill, for the capital needs for the road department?
DePlancke responded, “You’ve got all the numbers there. I can’t answer that off the top of my head, but I’d love to have a crack at it.”
As discussion continued, Miller spoke as well, defending the bond millage. He said, “Our facilities, our infrastructure in this county. We’ve made progress, we’ve done improvements, but they are getting very old relative to their life. The buildings, the roads, everything needs capital improvements to keep them in good operating and maintenance level. We are facing, in the future, a large amount of renovation, and maybe even replacement, of our facilities that will only come from the capital budget that we have. And that money that goes to the capital budget will only come from the SPLOST collections, in my mind.”
Miller went on to say that he estimated $10 million in needs for the county in the coming 10 years just to keep the buildings and facilities at their current level. He said he didn’t want to wind up in the situation again where the county needed to borrow money or sell bonds. He said the commissioners didn’t have a choice but to maintain the path of maintaining and improving the infrastructure.
The board approved keeping the 1.5 mills, without raising or lowering, through a unanimous vote.
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.
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.
Beth goes over the penalties associated with not filing by the deadline and educates the viewers on IRA’s vs Roth IRA’s.
Beth and Crystal join the show to give an update on the tax season and talk about upcoming deadlines.
Beth of H&R Block joins the show again in 2019 to discuss important topics regarding your tax returns.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller called the budget “workable” as he promised citizens to continue working on the budget in 2019.
Calling it the biggest financial decision of the year, Miller said he wished that more people had dedicated more time to the budget process and discussions. As opposed to an expected split decision after their work session, the Commissioners put forth a 3-0 vote for approval.
The vote came shortly after Miller’s comments, but also after a lengthy work session on Tuesday with much discussion dedicated to the topic. An understanding seemed to be reached during the work session as Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch spoke about a need for a change in the process as a whole and Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris agreed he would be willing to look at the process, even putting it on the agenda for January.
This budget comes in a transition time as Crouch prepares to step down from his position as Post 2 Commissioner-Elect Karleen Ferguson will step into the office. This means that Crouch is not only resting on promises from Miller and Paris to continuing working on the budget, but he rests on the experience, training, and dedication of the Ferguson as well.
Along with the budget, Ferguson will also step into another major decision as the Board tabled the decision on the Post Commissioner’s Salary. As reported in “BOC backs off legislative option for Post Commissioner Raises,” the Commissioners have stated they will be looking at home rule for the discussion. But as that backs it off from a push to get it in Atlanta in early 2019, it also allows the change in the Post 2 Commissioner position. These financial decisions are likely to be the first major decisions she will vote on.
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.
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.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners entered the year’s end awarding last-minute bids for 2018 and appointing board members and positions for the county.
Awarding the 2018 Tax Anticipatory Note (TAN) produced four bids. The two lowest bids came from Southstate Bank with a variable rate currently at 1.696 percent and Regions Bank with a fixed rate at 1.93 percent. Though Southstate is currently lower, the commissioners noted the variable rate has already jumped from 1.53 percent in the first week of November.
Since the commissioners are not expecting to utilize the TAN until August or September of 2018, and noting upward pressure on rates, the motion came to approve Regions Bank’s fixed rate of 1.93 percent.
Along the same item, the banking services for 2018 was bid as well. Five banks offered bids with two bids being offered contingent on winning the TAN bid as well. The three left included United Community Bank with $50 monthly service charges and a 0.65 percent interest rate, Parks Sterling Bank with no monthly charges and a 0.15 percent interest rate, and Chase with its interest rate made to offset the service charges.
Currently, the county is using United Community Bank. As discussion went through their work session, the board began considering the costs of transferring accounts, including ordering new checks. Making the motion for approval, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris stated, “Given the offer and also considering the expense of making a change, it would be my opinion that we should just continue with United Community Bank.” The motion was unanimously approved.
Another bid approved during December was the emulsion bids. Originally bid with other materials previously, Gilmer County Public Works Director Jim Smith stated the county only had one bid at the time and another vendor claimed it did not receive the notification for bid. Rebidding now, Ergon Asphault Emulsions, $2.30 per gallon for CRS2L and $1.85 per gallon for CRS2H, and Hudson Materials, $2.06 per gallon for CRS2L and $1.72 per gallon for CRS2H, made offerings.
As low bidder, Hudson Materials was approved for emulsion material beginning Jan. 1, 2018.
The county is moving forward with a lease agreement with the Gilmer Chamber to occupy the Watkins House located downtown. The agreement will allow for the Chamber to create a downtown welcome center and display space. Although other entities are interested in the space, such as Gilmer ARTS and the historical society, both looking to display items in the building, the county is set to main lease to the Chamber while allowing them to decide on sub-leasings for space and display.
The agreement is still in its early stages, but indications suggest the county will be maintaining the space while the Chamber pays for utilities. Rent would be negligible, one suggestion indicated a dollar per year. With the agreement beginning, Chairman Paris suggested the Chamber interest could see utilization of the space as early as spring.
As the agreement moves forward, citizens can expect to revisit the item in coming months for approvals by the board.
The other items for the meeting included several board and position appointments to new and open terms through the county:
Lex Rainey and Don Callihan were appointed to the Gilmer/Pickens Joint Development Authority;
Jim DuPont and Alan Davenport were reappointed to the Planning Commission Board;
Tony Pritchett was appointed as County Legislative Coordinator; and
Cathy Green was appointed to the Northwest Georgia Region 1 Emergency Medical Services Council.
Check out more on the commissioners’ December meeting with “December meetings continue commissioners’ budget conversation.”
ELLIJAY, GA – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners have officially adopted the 6.983 Millage Rate.
The final vote came 2-1 with Chairman Charlie Paris being the dissenting vote. Later he told FYN there was very little difference between the Rollback Rate and current Millage Rate. “If we stick with the current rate instead of the rollback rate you have to advertise it as a tax increase. I disagree with that. I feel its not. So, my feeling is I did not want the people of Gilmer County to see that we are raising their taxes. I don’t like a tax increase… I wanted to set the Rollback Rate and move on.”
The official motion to adopt came from Post Commissioner Travis Crouch who stated, “I listened to the Special Called Meeting and both arguments and perspectives… At the end of the day, I find, at the end of the day, that the points that Dallas made are compelling in our situation. So, I feel like keeping the Millage Rate where it has been for the past two years is appropriate for our situation.”
This will make the third year in a row that the millage rate has been at 6.983. Previously, it sat at 7.224 before that.
After the motion was seconded, Post Commissioner Dallas Miller opted to comment on the action before votes were cast. “I hope that something as serious as this, as what we decide on property taxes, should not be, [sic] and I’m just going to ask the public to not make this a political issue. This is a financial decision we need to make. We need to do, to the best of our knowledge, what we think is best for our county.”
ELLIJAY, GA – Two meetings in July have tentatively set the tax future for Gilmer County.
The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners held a special meeting to discuss the Rollback Rate of 6.617 and the County’s decision on its millage. During the meeting. their discussion centered around a $291,048 loss to the budget if the Rollback Rate was approved. However, since the meeting, FYN has discovered that a recalculation could mean a drastically different number with the Rollback.
Commissioner Chairman Charlie Paris stated in the meeting that while he was used to Rollback Rates coming with a roughly $30,000 loss to the budget, but the nearly $300,000 loss would be a serious hit to the county.
Post Commissioner Travis Crouch made note of serious issues the County is still facing including rising insurance costs and the Lower Cartecay Road Bridge that needs replacing. Currently, Director Jim Smith has not been able to obtain additional funding for the bridge.
However, with the new information of a recalculated rate, a new meeting is being called for the Commissioners to revisit the discussion with the newer information.
On the Board of Education side, the calculated Rollback Rate suggested 16.24 as the Rollback Rate. Recommending the process to begin with advertising the rate, Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes said, after extended discussion with the Board, she was recommending a rate lower than the Rollback at 16.12.
As the meeting moved forward discussing the rate, the final vote came to approve advertising for the rate at 16.12. However, the vote split at 3-1 with Board Member Nick Weaver as the dissenting vote. Board Member Ronald Watkins was absent from the meeting and did not vote.
FYN caught up with Weaver to ask about his vote. Weaver stated, “I think it should be lower.”
With the lower rate, the BOE should see taxes decrease by $392,870 according to the Board’s documentation.
ELLIJAY, GA – Coming to the end of a process that began back in Fall, Gilmer County Schools’ Board of Education has approved a tentative budget for the 2018 Fiscal Year.
With some obvious changes such as One time Grants for projects like the School Cannery, other major changes are coming such as staffing adding two ESOL teachers, one Special Education teacher, one academic coach, one RTI Intervention Teacher, and one health pathway teacher for the Certified Nursing path in school among others. The school system is also moving forward on the Provision 2 Free Breakfast project for students.
Taking a closer look at the budget, our Schools are estimating to end FY18 with a $1,298,797 gap between revenues and expenditures. This estimation is not unheard of in Gilmer County as they have projected themselves under expenditures last year as well.
Gilmer Schools estimated in June of 2016 that they would be $1,631,875 under expenditures for their budget. This estimate left a fund balance of $14,962,247 by June 30,2017. However, the school system is currently estimating a fund balance of $20.7 million on July 1, 2017. Chief Financial Officer Trina Penland gave credit for the change to the Board of Education and specifically to Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes for continuously reviewing expenditures and cutting unnecessary items.
Regardless, the schools still estimates this year’s budget revenues to still come up short of expenditures by $1,298,797 leaving a fund balance of $19,401,203 by June 30, 2018.
While everyone remembers the mandated 2% salary increase for teachers, and our systems plan to increase the 2% to all faculty and staff, other changes have affected expenditures for the school system including a $300,000 increase in textbooks and a $560,000 increase to the TRS benefits (Teachers Retirement System) for employees. While the school system has been paying 14.27% of the costs for teachers TRS Benefits, this is now increasing to 16.81%. FY19 is also estimated to 20.9%.
One other notable increase comes as the Board approved a request from the Commissioners to increase their funding for School Resource Officers to 50% of the total costs, this $45,000 increase will take the total cost from its current $105,000 to $150,000.
On the Revenue side, the school system will be seeing a $635,000 increase to QBE Allotment from the State to aid in covering tuition and instruction in addition to the TAVT (Title Ad Valorem Taxes) Revenue. The TAVT is still being inflated due to repayment of taxes from the county and cities after the disbursement error in the Tax Commissioner’s office. This could offset in roughly a year and a half when the repayment is completed. However, Penland stated they have noticed an increase in collection from last year and are optimistic the economy could at least make up for a portion of the difference by the time those payments cease.
Additionally, during their meeting, the Board of Education also moved forward with approval for a Technology purchase of $90,000 for eight carts of Chromebooks. With 30 Chromebooks per cart, 240 total, Dr. Wilkes stated this would finally put 3rd and 4th Grades to a 1:1 ratio of Chromebooks and students.
While the budget is currently tentative, the Detailed Budget will be up for approval at the June 15 meeting. Citizens wishing to speak or comment on the budget can do so at their Work Session on June 12 or sign up to speak at the Regular Meeting on June 15.