MINUTES OF THE CRISP COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
CALLED MEETING HELD ON AUGUST 25, 2011
Chairman Wallace Mathis called the meeting to order at 1:00 p.m. with Commissioners James D. Harris, A. James Nance, and Clark Henderson in attendance. Others present were Finance Director Sherrie Leverett and Secretary Linda Finch. Commissioner Nance gave the invocation, and Chairman Mathis welcomed all in attendance.
ROBERT POWELL'S COMMENTS
Robert Powell thanked Commissioners for putting him on the agenda, and stated that he is here about the millage rate increase that they proposed and also had a public hearing on. He knows that there have been a lot of discussions and conversations, and he wanted to speak to them again about it, as he knows they are going to take a final vote today; it is really important to all of us. He stated that someone made a comment to him after the last meeting asking him why he is doing this as it is only $100 or a few hundred dollars and it doesn't mean anything to you, and they are basically right as it is not a lot of money to a lot of us as we have good jobs and can afford it, but the people that can't afford it are the people that are not here represented; they struggle to make ends meet just like some of you do and some of the folks back in the audience, so it is real important to everybody. As we were having the last public hearing, Governor Deal told his department heads to cut 2% in expenses; one of the things that he doesn't believe he has heard or in talking to one or two department heads since the last meeting up until now is they have not been instructed to go back and to cut anything. He has to assume it has been dumped in Sherrie's lap and each one of them that have had conversations with her since we no longer have a county administrator, but if the governor of the state of Georgia can say you cut 2%, they also can cut. He doesn't think that any one of the Commissioners is totally qualified to go over this budget and to say where to cut, but the department heads are and given the directive to do this, he ventures to say that they could find some where to cut and not have to touch the employee salaries. He wanted them to give the department heads the opportunity to cut. He also stated that we came before you last time and discovered that there was almost $2.1 million in uncollected taxes in this county, some of those are in bankruptcy, but the report he got in July said there were $846,000 in uncollected taxes just for the year 2010. Also the report that he finally got from the Tax Commissioner shows about $656,000 in uncollected taxes; how did we collect $200,00 in that period of time and why don't we stay on top of the Tax Commissioner to collect, to file the fifa's to pursue these uncollected taxes. He stated that they just ask that they not raise the millage rate in Crisp County at this time; we understand probably that your revenues are going down as we sit here, and they are even going to be less next year if you follow the economy. We are looking at 2014 now before we see any kind of change, we are in a depressed area, but you need to consider each individual taxpayer; he is not concerned about the big taxpayers, he is concerned about the individual taxpayers and how much they are having to come up with. He stated that the school system is going to ask for a 1% sales tax for the schools plus another 1% that the state is going to ask for transportation, that on top of all this is a tremendous amount, it adds up. We all have to look at expenses and have to cut, that is the only way government is going to survive. He stated that when they are asked to vote on this today, that they seriously look at what they are doing to the taxpayers in this county; the budget is 118 pages long and many line items, 3.5%, if that is what it works out to be, off of each line item is not a big item. He challenges them if they give the department heads that responsibility, he bets they can find 3.5% and they won't find it in lowering the employee salaries. Commissioner Henderson advised that before he was elected he thought that everybody worked for the County Commissioners, and he found out that there are four people in the county that they cannot tell what to do, which include the Tax Commissioner, the Sheriff, the Probate Judge, and the Clerk of Court; they are constitutional officers, and they control the way they spend their money and their employees. The business expertise that he has does not apply when it comes to governmental accounting, and there is no way that we could tax the ad valorm taxpayers of this county enough to pay for the budget that we have. Whatever we approve today, next month we are going to be looking at where we are then as we are not going to dig us a hole we will never get out of, so those cuts that you are talking about, they may happen every month until the revenue comes in and that revenues is LOST. He intends to propose a reduction in the millage, but this Board has to look at this budget every month, otherwise at the end of the year, we can be $2 to $4 million in the hole. Mr. Powell stated that they are headed for a hole anyway regardless of what they do because the revenue is down. He stated that their was an increase in the Tax Commissioner's budget, and asked if they knew that you will soon be able to order your tags online; you don't need a big staff and has that been considered or any of you aware of that, that is a reduction. In regards to the Sheriff's Office, other counties do not have full-time staff in their courthouse. Commissioner Henderson advised that he has called and Tifton has 18 deputies in their courthouse and also the City of Americus does not close their courthouse 1/2 day a week as that is against state law. Mr. Powell stated that the Commissioners have the right to challenge and go to court with any of the constitutional officers budgets; Dougherty County has been to court with their sheriff. Commissioner Henderson assured them that next month if the money is not there, we are going to be doing some cutting. Mr. Powell stated that most of us don't have any choice other than not pay the taxes; some people elect not to pay their taxes, which is what causes some of this loss that we are feeling. Commissioner Henderson stated that he does not have the authority to tell the constitutional officers what to do, and Mr. Powell advised that if they cut their funds off, you watch and see what happens; granted you may be taken to court, you may have to pay some legal fees, but if they have to struggle each year to get their budget from you then they will begin to think about it. If we have runaway costs, there are a lot of ways to address this, and they are asking that the commissioners address it today by not raising the millage. He is asking each one of them to do what is right for the taxpayers in this county and vote not to raise the millage rate for Crisp County residents, go back and tell the department heads to cut 3.5%. Commissioner Henderson stated that the Tax Assessor's Board in this county is the second highest board paid board in the state. Mr. Powell advised that up until two years ago no Tax Assessor Board in this county had ever given back the raises and for two years running that have not taken their raises. Ron Milam stated that he didn't know how many people picked up a line-item budget but they really need to, and it looks like 1/2 of the 1 mill increase goes for additional retirement benefits over and above the benefit for 2010, which is roughly $215,000. He also stated that on page 115 in the budget, there is bond interest and interest on long-term debt, and by the end of July of this year, you paid $77,534 in bond interest and long-term debt you paid $45,563, but what you approved was $197,000 more for bond interest and $135,000 more for long-term debt; that is a lot of money. Commissioner Nance advised that he thought that was incorrect. Mrs. Leverett stated that what he was talking about was the Landfill Budget debt that does not have anything to do with tax dollars and the General Fund. Chairman Mathis advised that the Landfill Budget is a revenue Enterprise Fund. Mr. Milam asked if this didn't come out of the General Fund. Mrs. Leverett advised that we have a bond issue in the Water Fund and several large bonds, actually they are GEFA Funds, in the Landfill; there is no bond debt in the General Fund. Mr. Milam thinks the retirement benefits are way out of line, everybody should have some kind of retirement benefit, but considering the economy, he thinks that is way out of line. Commissioner Henderson advised that we are a self-funding retirement plan through Association County Commissioners of Georgia; those funds were invested in the stock market, and we have to stay at a certain percentage of revenue, and if the value of your total portfolio drops because of the stock market, then you have to put additional money in to continue having the plan qualify as a funded plan. The Government dictates that we have our retirement plan funded at a certain amount, so in order to bring our minimum amount up to U.S. government standards, we have to put that money in their to have our plan qualified, as those are funds that are already owned by people that are in the system. Mrs. Leverett stated that our funds are only invested in federally insured bonds. Jerry Carney advised that Mr. Gene had told him the county does zero based budgeting, and his concern about the budgeting process is that on zero based budgeting, you start fresh every year, and they might want to look at this budgeting process a little closer because of what you might see several years down the road is a big cost for unforeseen expenses; evidently it worked a long time because of the fact that we haven't seen a millage increase in a long time, and he thinks that has to be recognized too, but at the same time when you are just short 3.5%, it is not like you are short 20%. His question is if the millage increase is approved, how long is that going to carry us. Chairman Mathis stated that our biggest hope is by the time we get to this point again next year that our sales tax is increased, as we saw a little increase in June, but we do have a lot of good things going for us, but right now we are a little bit under funded, and we hope things are going to pull up. Our General Fund budget has been around $14.5 million for about four years now, which includes a lot of new things and things that have had to be shifted around to make room to make it all fit in that $14.5 million package. Mr. Carney stated that there are things like how can you employ technology in order not to reduce the quantity of dollars spent. Chairman Mathis advised that to him the hardest part of the budget is dealing with people that break the law as they take money from the county with no contribution or no respect for the people that have to pull out of their pockets to make ends meet. Susan Stripling asked if the tax has ever gone down, the population of the county has not changed much, and we are raising the taxes on those who will pay their taxes, are supporting people who not only won't but can't pay taxes, we are allowing some that can but elect not to pay taxes, and yet you are saying let us do it just one more time and maybe if things get better we can roll it back and nothing happens. You can ask each department to cut 3.5%. Gladys Bishop stated that we don't mean to sound unappreciative of our Board of Commissioners, that is not our intention, but all the points that everybody has made, bottom line is we don't want our taxes raised; however we all seem to have good ideas as it is easy for us to sit back and come up with all these ideas when actually we should be throwing our hat in the ring if we are so knowledgeable and know so much about how to run county government. At the next election, maybe we should throw our hat in the ring and get elected and deal with it every day, then we might be able to understand why choices were made sometimes that you don't want to make. We are not being unappreciative or disrespectable in any way; it is human nature to sit back and judge. Commissioner Henderson stated that he has a list of recommendations, and the proposed rate that we were looking at was 11.749, his proposed rate reduces it 1/2% to 11.249, but bare in mind if next month the revenue is not there, we are going to have to make the deductions you have been talking about. Mr. Henderson made a motion to approve a millage rate of 11.249 as this is better than nothing, and there are some non governmental agencies that he left in the budget such as Sam Shortline Railroad, Arts Alliance, South Georgia Tech, Easter Fest, and Youth and Family Resource Center, but if things don't get better, next time they may be on the chopping block. That is his motion but he feels like there are some things here, like the airport pilots that are paying only $75 a month to park a $400,000 airplane. Americus charges $145 and Tifton charges $175 a month for hangar fees plus that airport gets 40% of the income and the county gets 60%, we get zero; we need to adjust that. Motion was made by Mr. Henderson to adopt the millage rate at 11.249, seconded by Mr. Nance for discussion. Mr. Henderson is also recommending that we cut the Board of Assessors pay from almost $8,000 a year down to what the Americus Board of Assessors get, $2,700 a year, which is for ten training days and twelve meetings a year. Mrs. Leverett stated that the cuts that Mr. Henderson has suggested actually come to 11.433, not 11.249 as the bottom number he was using was just for reference and that includes every one of those cuts in that number and is .316 of a mill difference. Mrs. Bishop asked about the hangar fees, and Mr. Henderson stated that included them going to $175 fee per month, which includes the county getting $105 and Mr. Cooper getting $70. Mr. Henderson stated that the savings would be greater next year because we are already two months into our budget year. Mr. Nance advised that the entire point is we have a lot of hopeful thinking and we just can't continue to do business the same way and expect different results, so bottom line is we have to really look at the entire structure. The whole structure is going to have to be examined in terms of technology, like some people said, and maybe some privatization of some things; he can understand where people are coming from in terms of increasing taxes but still we will be right back here again next year increasing again if we don't revamp the entire structure and look at the entire way of doing things. Mr. Powell stated that he has no problem with cutting the Tax Assessors pay, but what does bother him is that Mr. Henderson has singled out a set group of people and is unwilling to go across the board with the cuts; we asked you for 3.5% cut, and the point is you cannot do things equally. That is all we asked for is a 3.5% reduction fair and across the board. Francis Carswell asked if the Commissioners would entertain the idea of 3.5% cut across the board. Chairman Mathis stated that it is easy to say 3.5% because that is the magic number that works out on the equation, but what we are telling you is we have already reduced items in the budget to keep it at a level that it has been in the past. Mrs. Carswell stated this is a business and go to the department heads and say cut 3.5%, she does not understand why they can't consider that. Chairman Mathis stated that has already been done, plus Mr. Powell mentioned that Governor Deal said to cut out 2% of the state budget and I can tell you where a lot of that is going to fallŠon the county, and it sounds good to say cut 3.5% but we have gone over and over this and the numbers are where they are, and we just can't magically make stuff disappear. Mrs. Stripling stated that she finds it difficult to believe that the Commissioners cannot give up micro managing the budget, is it hard to go back and ask the department heads for more money as the department heads know where they can cut, you don't. Mrs. Bishop stated that Clark has done his due diligence in checking with other counties to see what they are doing, but don't just single out a few places, go down the line in every department making cuts. Mr. Henderson read the proposed cuts, and he stated that he was not signaling out the Board of Assessors or the airport. Motion was made by Mr. Henderson to adopt the millage of 11.433, seconded by Mr. Nance for the purpose of discussion, motion carried unanimously. Mr. Nance stated that he will vote for it but he still thinks the best way to cut is across the board as that way it will be spread across everybody. Mr. Henderson stated that the problem we have is the digest has to be in Atlanta in a few days, and he would have been more than glad if the other Commissioners had come up with something. Mr. Nance stated that the simplest thing to do would be to spread it across the board and let other people find a way to do it because when you do certain things you can single out certain people and certain things possibly, not saying it is intentional. The fairest way and the only way he can see is to do it across the board but this is all we have, and he knows Mr. Henderson has spent a lot of time working on this, but in fact overall we are still raising the millage. Mr. Henderson stated that unless the revenues come up, we are going to be doing a lot of cutting as we are not out of the woods, all this is going to give us a road map and we are going to have to adjust the way we go every month. Mrs. Leverett stated that if they go this way the Board will need to amend the motion to include the other elements of the resolution (attached). Motion was made by Mr. Henderson to adopt the county millage rate of 11.433 mills, the state rate at 1/4 mill, the special service district at 1.43 mill, and the school board at 16.45 mills, seconded by Mr. Nance, motion carried unanimously.
DISCUSS COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR POSITION
Mr. Henderson stated that he had received six phone calls in the last three days, as people were a little upset with him. He had asked for permission to contact Cart Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia to get them to help us with our final selection of the county administrator position, and for some reason somebody is going around saying that he is willing to spend $25,000 to get us a new administrator. He has a commitment from the Institute to do background investigation and to assist them in finding an administrator for $3,250; we definitely need an administrator right now, made the motion to appoint Public Works Director Carl Gamble as our Interim Administrator until we can go through the selection process and get a permanent administrator, but the motion died for lack of a second. Chairman Mathis stated that this is a personnel matter, and we really need to go into our public hearing now, as we are about thirty minutes behind on it. Mr. Nance advised that historically this Board has gone into Executive Session to discuss personnel matters prior to making an appointment, and in keeping with the way the Board functions, he thinks we need to discuss personnel before we make a decision; that is his personal opinion. Chairman Mathis recognized Mr. Henderson's point but advised that we are thirty minutes behind on the redistricting hearing.
PUBLIC HEARING ON REDISCTRICING MAP
Chairman Mathis opened the public hearing on the proposed redistricting map, and asked if anybody had any questions. Mrs. Stripling stated that she sees they have worked long and hard on the map, she is not an expert, but it seems to her that three of the county representatives are from within the City of Cordele, which already has it own government. She would like to see them try to split it up, if they can, where you don't have the two county districts so big and then the three districts in downtown Cordele. She stated that she knew it would be difficult, she understands that, but she would like to see them split the city up so that they in the county don't feel like it is county versus city on the county commission. Chairman Mathis explained that it has to be done by population and each district runs around 4,600 to 4,700 in population, and also the Justice Department has stipulations that we have to follow to keep two predominantly African Americans or minority seats. Also, in his years of working with Mr. Harris and Mr. Nance when they are here they look at the county government at the county government standpoint. Mr. Leverett advised that there were some slight adjustments in districts 1, 2, 3, and 4, but we have what they call an optimal population that each election district has to meet and those adjustments were made so that each one would fall within the range of the optimal population so that the Department of Justice would approve it. She advised that it is based on population, not area. Chairman Mathis asked for any more comments in favor or against the maps as proposed, there were none, and he closed the public hearing. Motion was made by Mr. Henderson to accept the election district map as presented by the River Valley River Commission in the August 9, 2011 meeting, which is on display, seconded by Mr. Nance, motion carried unanimously. Mrs. Leverett advised that River Valley will be assisting the county in getting the map submitted to the General Assembly as they are doing that for a lot of counties, mainly because they want it electronically, and River Valley has the program to send the maps in the right format and the sizes that they want at no cost to the county. She advised that it will go to the General Assembly first, and then once it is approved at that level, it will go to the Department of Justice for final approval.
CORRECT HAROLD JACKSON APPOINTMENT
Mrs. Leverett advised that we need to correct an earlier appointment of Harold Jackson to the Board of Assessors; we used a July 31, 2011 ending date for Mr. Jackson, and it should be August 31, 2011. Motion was made by Mr. Nance to amend the appointment ending date of Harold Jackson on the Board of Assessors from July 31, 2011 to August 31, 2011, seconded by Mr. Harris, motion carried unanimously.
Motion was made by Mr. Nance to recess the meeting at 2:12 p.m., seconded by Mr. Henderson, motion carried unanimously. Board members then left the room without setting the time length of the recess so the meeting was considered adjourned.