Heart & Soul Present to City & County Leaders
By Bridge Turner and Luke Haney
A shift in the way young people choose where they will reside is forcing cities to take a new approach to branding and self-marketing, according to a presentation by Community Heart & Soul to a joint meeting of city and county officials last week.
The “Quality of Life Movement” is gaining steam, according to H&S representatives, and the time is now for Thomaston and Upson County to climb aboard or be left behind.
Whereas older generations traditionally have secured a job and relocated to the area of employment, Millennials tend to choose an area based on “quality of life,” move there, then begin to make career-related decisions.
“There has been a definite shift. They decide where they want to live, then try to find a job,” said Jenny Robbins. “So you have to ask yourself, ‘What currently keeps young people here, and what would keep more and attract more of the younger generation here in the future?’”
Heart & Soul’s resolution to this issue is to use the information gathered over the course of the program to present the local government entities with hopes and concerns of citizens and show ways that these issues can be addressed. While at the meeting, Project Coordinator Jennifer Rogers distributed data packets to the hands of local officials so that they may see on paper what matters most to those in the community.
Once phases three and four of the Heart & Soul initiative have been completed, Rogers and other H&S representatives will meet with elected officials, as well as, organizations like the Chamber, IDA, and many more to discuss the action ideas based on all the data of what the citizens value and hope for and suggest ways to make it happen.
At a recent city work session, Mayor J.D. Stallings, councilmembers and City Manager Russell Thompson discussed eco-tourism, re-development of closed mill sites, a clean-up effort and possible property acquisition in the downtown area, and a plan to promote private investment as options to enhance interest in the community.
Taxpayers May Benefit from Joint Projects ‘Fund Balance’
By Bridge Turner
The Thomaston City Council and Upson County Commissioners agreed last week that local taxpayers deserve to begin receiving the benefits of a “fund balance” which has accrued from joint projects over the last five years.
Officials estimate that the city and county each have approximately $500,000 in their respective accounts, totaling about $1 million combined. And both entities agree that the money should be used for capital needs, tax breaks, or a combination of both.
“We need to spend the money on agreed upon joint projects, or we need to roll the millage rate back,” said City Manager Russell Thompson.
“This could potentially affect the next tax digest,” added County Manager Jason Tinsley. “We’re both reporting pretty hefty balances, and the taxpayers are due a decision on what the balances are.”
A large portion of the excess balance results from over-estimating budget allocations for the joint projects: The landfill for the city; and the recreation department, EMS, Gilmore Center, library, and others for the county.
“On the city side, we only have one (the landfill), so we had a separate checking account for that,” explained Lonnie Joyce, city finance director. “The county’s dealing with a lot of stuff, and adding unincorporated areas into that, so it’s more complicated on the county side.”
In order to determine exactly how much money is in each fund balance, the city and county each will undergo an “agreed upon procedure” similar to an audit. And while both governmental bodies agree on how to use the money, they did not agree on who should conduct the procedure.
One bid was submitted by Rushton Accounting and Business Advisors of Gainesville, and the other was submitted by the local firm Driver & Adams, which currently provides accounting service to both the city and county. Rushton’s bid was $20,000 to $25,000, and Driver & Adams’ bid was $24,000 to $30,000.
Regardless of which firm is awarded the job, fees for the service will be taken from the fund balances that are being reconciled.
“I prefer Rushton simply because it will be a fresh set of eyes, and I think fresh is always good,” said Allen Salter, assistant finance director for the county. “It’s like hiring a new employee. Often times, new employees are your best consultants.”
Following a discussion among county representatives, the commissioners voted to award the project to Rushton.
“If you want to be in accordance with the local preference policy, you’d give the nod to Driver & Adams,” Thompson commented. “However, if you’re in conflict with the county, the motion to proceed won’t pass.”
The county currently does not have a local preference policy.
Mayor Pro-tem Doug Head and council member Ryan Tucker, both of whom have a background and knowledge in banking, offered their opinions regarding the procedure.
“I favor the local firm because of familiarity with both the city and county,” Head said. “I can’t believe that this is a very complex audit. It seems relatively simple.”
“This is just going back and tracing debits and credits,” Tucker added. “It’s not doing any kind of forensic accounting. It’s just pulling records. In the accounting world, it’s been my experience that this isn’t rocket science.”
Following a short discussion among the members present, the city council voted to utilize the services of Driver & Adams.
“I am of the opinion that this should have been done all along by our current firm,” Tinsley said. “I’ll begin and end with that.”
The ensuing joint discussion resulted in a decision to table the matter pursuant to further consideration by both bodies at their next regularly-scheduled meetings this month.
Citizens Voice Complaints to Council
By Bridge Turner
A group of local citizens complained to members of the Thomaston City Council last week, alleging unfair treatment stemming from a kickball tournament held May 5 at the Park Street Playground.
The Thomaston Police Department received a complaint about a “person causing a disturbance” at the event, according to Chief Mike Richardson, then additional incidents took place while officers were on the scene, resulting in an arrest.
Rev. James McGill, spokesman for the citizens’ group, said it was a “misunderstanding.”
“You need to stop demonizing our events, because we want to get together and do things,” Rev. McGill said. “Park Street is a nice place, just like Generation Park and other parks in the city. Word was put out that there would not be another event there, and that place belongs to the community.”
The event was advertised on social media as a Georgia M.A.D.E. AAU kickball tournament to raise money for a youth basketball program. Fee to enter was $10 per person, with a minimum of 10 players per team. The Facebook post stated that concessions and refreshments would be available, and that donations would be appreciated.
“It was a great time, and everybody enjoyed it,” McGill said. “The whole evening was to raise money for the children to play basketball and do things for the youth. We need to come together and stop bickering. It was blown out of proportion. It was a bad misunderstanding, but our community has a right to have these events.”
A fight occurred between several females attending the event, according to a TPD report, resulting in disorderly conduct charges being filed. One woman was in possession of a .9mm handgun which she allegedly pointed at another attendee. The weapon was confiscated and placed into evidence by the TPD.
“I had to debate whether to kill it on the front end,” City Manager Russell Thompson said. “But I thought, ‘good intention, raising money for kids,’ so I made the decision to let it go and see what happens.”
The city’s policy is to only rent the pavilion at the park, and to only allow fund-raising events for 501c3 or non-profit entities.
“We were told that you were selling T-shirts and concessions, and you can’t sell concessions without a permit,” Thompson added. “We don’t allow solicitation to generate funds on public property. We only rent the pavilion for that reason.
“But the main thing is that numbers impact services, traffic and public safety,” Thompson continued. “When hundreds of people show up, it goes back to the liability issue. When you have an event that size, you are required to purchase liability insurance.”
“I just have a problem with the controlling spirit,” McGill said. We are a community, and we’re better than this.”
Thompson pointed out that fields can be rented at the civic center for $200 to hold a variety of sporting events.
“We’ve never prevented anyone from playing on the public park fields from sun-up to 10 p.m., we just don’t rent it,” he said. “If you’d like us to consider policy changes, feel free to bring them to the council.”
In other business, the council voted unanimously in favor of amending the city charter to increase compensation for the mayor and councilmembers. Starting Jan. 1, 2020, the mayor will be paid $10,800 annually, the mayor pro-tem $8,100 annually, and councilmembers $7,200 each annually.
Upson County’s Virtual Payment And Purchase Card Program
County Manager Jason Tinsley issued the
following press release:
Chairman Norman Allen and the Upson County Board of Commissioners are pleased to report the success of the virtual payment and purchase card programs initiated by the Upson County finance office in July 2018.
According to assistant finance officer Allen Salter, Upson County has received $16,161 in rebates since the program was initiated nine months ago. "I anticipate the program will generate in excess of $22,000 in revenue annually," Salter reported.
The virtual payment program is an internet-based payment system built into the county's existing accounts payable system. Instead of printing, applying postage and mailing paper check payments to the county's vendors, a payment file is generated by vendor and sent via the internet to a third-party processor where a unique credit card number is generated for each payment. The vendor receives this file and uses the credit card number to process the payment via their point of sale system, allowing funds to be deposited into their account immediately. Many, but not all, of the vendors for whom the county does business accepts virtual payments. Vendors who do receive the benefit of much quicker payments as compared with mailed payments.
The purchase card or "P-card" is simply a credit card that has been issued to certain county employees that can be used to purchase tools, supplies, smaller items of equipment and other county necessities. The P-card allows for in-store and online purchases and essentially replaces existing county credit cards and eliminates purchasing on account from local businesses.
Both the virtual payment and P-card programs bring cost savings to the county from decreasing the time-consuming manual process of printing and mailing manual check payments. Additionally, for each virtual payment or purchase via the P-card, the county receives a certain percentage rebate.
"This and other endeavors to reduce costs by improving efficiencies in our processes allow us to continue the positive trends we have enjoyed over the past several years of improving operating performance and consequently increasing our reserve," said Chairman Allen. "The board of commissioners and county management remain committed to maintaining a culture of excellence and innovation. The results of this initiative are an outstanding example of how we are constantly looking for ways to improve the bottom line for our local taxpayers."
city considering sewage upgrades
By Bridge Turner
Thomaston is facing a multi-million dollar outlay for infrastructure improvements related to sewage, City Manager Russell Thompson told the mayor and council members at a work session Friday.
Necessary upgrades involving Bell Creek and Town Branch could cost as much as $5 million, according to Thompson, and a factor contributing to the sewage issue is a joint agreement between the city and county which has been in place for more than 15 years.
Per the contract, the city provides sewage service to the industrial park, which lies entirely outside the city limits, in Upson County. The Industrial Development Authority is currently discussing the construction of “pad-ready” sites to attract new industry, and those speculative sites will require sewage service.
“You are making all these infrastructure improvements to grow an industrial park that is creating no tax base and no revenue for the city,” Thompson said. “Development normally occurs near infrastructure, but we have chosen to build it 13 miles away.”
Councilmembers suggested meeting with the county commission to discuss the possibility of revenue sharing to offset the expense.
“It can’t just be us,” said Mayor Pro-tem Doug Head. “How do we establish a common view of where we want to go, and how do we share the burden?”
County commissioners are “not being antagonistic,” according to Thompson, and are willing to discuss the issue with city officials.
The two governing bodies have scheduled a joint meeting for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 9 at the Thomaston-Upson Senior Center on South Bethel Street.
thomaston and upson county promote building safety
Youth Can Participate in Annual
“Draw Your Dream Home” Contest
During May 2019, Upson County and the City of Thomaston are participating in the 39th annual Building Safety Month, a worldwide campaign presented by the International Code Council, its members and partners to promote building safety. First observed in 1980, Building Safety Month raises awareness about critical safety issues from structural to fire prevention, plumbing and mechanical systems, and energy efficiency.
Building codes and the officials who enforce them are making our families and communities safer and more resilient. Homes and buildings that are built in compliance with building safety codes result in resilient structures that minimize the risks of death, injury and property damage. In the wake of a disastrous hurricane season, rampant wildfires and devastating earthquakes, building safety is even more important. Building safety affects everyone, and modern, updated building codes save lives.
This year’s themes are: May 1–5, Preparing for Disasters: Build Strong, Build Smart; May 6–12, Ensuring a Safer Future Through Training and Education; May 13–19, Securing Clean, Abundant Water for All Communities; May 20–26, Construction Professionals and Homeowners: Partners in Safety; and May 27–31, Innovations in Building Safety.
The third annual Building Safety Month “Draw Your Dream Home” contest for children under the age of 18 runs from May 1-May 31. An Activity Book and contest rules and materials are available at the Upson County Building and Zoning Department, 305 S. Hightower Street, Suite D-100, Thomaston. Phone 706/647-1297
Building codes have protected the public for thousands of years. The earliest known code of law—the Code of Hammurabi, king of the Babylonian Empire, written circa 2200 B.C.—assessed severe penalties, including death, if a building was not constructed safely. The regulation of building construction in the United States dates back to the 1700s. In the early-1900s, the insurance industry and others with similar concerns developed the first model building code.
Today, the International Codes, developed by the Code Council and adopted by our community, are the most widely used and adopted set of building safety codes in the U.S. and around the world.
Learn more about Building Safety Month at www.buildingsafetymonth.org or join the conversation on social media at #BuildingSafety365.
THOMASTON’S NEW LADDER TRUCK ARRIVES
Thomaston Fire Department’s new 107-foot Pierce ascendant PUC ladder truck arrived in Forsyth on April 11, and will remain there until all emergency equipment is mounted and installed.
The unit was transported from Pierce manufacturing plant in Appleton, Wisc. where local officials were able to visit during pre-construction and final inspection of the apparatus.
Before the truck can be placed into service, all members of TFD will receive specialized training on its use. Those training dates are schedule from May 7-14. The training is a part of the purchase package, which will ensure all members understand its operations, safety features and limitations.
“There are many safety features on this apparatus compared to our 1988 E-One ladder truck, which has serious mechanical issues,” said TFD Chief Renee Harris. “This truck was expensive for Thomaston, but well worth the price to service the citizens and visitors of this community.
“The new 107-foot aerial ladder will service this city for the next 20 to 25 years,” Harris continued. “It is the first time in the history of Thomaston Fire Department that we were able to spec a ladder truck specifically for Thomaston, and not purchase an older used ladder with someone else’s mechanical problems already visible.”
Because the new ladder truck will not fit into the existing garage at TFD’s West Thompson Street location, the City of Thomaston and Community Ambulance have entered into a lease agreement for joint housing. The new ladder truck, along with two TFD personnel, will be housed at the CA location on Barnesville Highway; while an ambulance and two CA personnel will be housed at TFD.
“Thomaston Fire Department will celebrate the arrival of this new equipment by hosting an old, traditional ceremony called a ‘wet down’ to commemorate the occasion,” Harris said. “This event is planned to be held in the next couple of weeks, we would like to invite the entire community to help us celebrate. Date and location to be announced.
“I would like to thank the officers and firefighters of this department for their endless effort and hard work in assisting with the specs for our new apparatus,” she continued. “I would like to send a special thank you to the fire truck committee, city manager, mayor, city council members and the citizens of Thomaston. We, the members of TFD, look forward to continuing our efforts in serving the citizens of Thomaston and visitors in our community. Please remember to join us in the next couple of weeks to celebrate the arrival of our brand new ladder truck.”
Thomaston-Upson County Community Heart & Soul Phase 3 Discovery Meeting to be held April 30
Mark your calendars for Heart & Soul Phase 3 evening meeting to be held Tuesday, April 30, 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the URMC Auditorium.
Jennifer Roger, program coordinator, said, “”We are calling this our ‘Discovery Day’ to discover Phase 3 tasks, discover the hopes and concerns data, discuss action ideas and discover your personal leadership skills.”
Discover: What is Heart & Soul; Phase 3 Task; Data From Hopes & Concerns; Action Items; Your Personal Leadership Skills and Volunteer Opportunities.
Please RSVP to email@example.com for dinner before April 22. We look forward to hosting an evening meeting so those who cannot make it during the day can discover the Heart & Soul process!
BOC Votes 5-0 to Deny Fortner