Published 8-9-2017 By Matt Sharpe Eight miles of county roads are expected to get a new surface thanks to a Local Maintenance Improvement Grant. The announcement was made by county officials during a recent Board of Commissioners meeting held at the Government Complex. Three roads have qualified for LMIG funding: Rock Road, Smyrna Church Road, and Crest Lane. Two bids were received for the paving project. Georgia Asphalt was approved as the low bidder for the three roads with an amount of $549,467. CW Matthews turned in a bid of $675,484. Upson County is responsible for a 30 percent match in order to receive the funds. Two additional sections of roads are being considered for resurfacing: Bishop Road and Trinity Road. Roughly $166,000 will complete the two miles of resurfacing. Funds will come from the Local Maintenance Improvement Grant. Due to time constraints with weather, the paving is scheduled for completion by Oct. 31. Over the past few years, the county has paved approximately 6.5 miles per year. This year’s LMIG will have 8.2 miles of county roads being paved. In other business, local contractor Mid Georgia Aluminum was approved to replaced doors at the Civic Center. The funds for the project are allocated as part of SPLOST funds. Mid Georgia was the low bidder at $19,730.
NEW SHIFT TO FOCUS ON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT FOR COMMUNITY
Published 7-5-2017 By Matt Sharpe A new plan to expand from strictly an Industrial Development Authority to a more open Economic Development Authority looks to be the next play for business recruitment for the community. Discussed last week by Thomaston-Upson Industrial Development Authority members was the idea of expanding the IDA’s scope of incorporating more of an economic development including retail and commercial business. “We have to learn how we’re going to be with economic development in Upson County,” said BOC chairman and IDA board member Norman Allen. “We have to decide as IDA board if we are going to become a development authority and we have to let citizens know how we are going to do economic development. Or are the county and city going to go their separate ways and do development on their own. I don’t recommend that. I look around and see communities that have figured it out. We’re in catch up mode. We have blinders on if you can’t see that. That goes with both economic development and workforce.” Moving back to more of an economic development will not take a change in the IDA’s charter, as it already includes parameters allowing for that type of recruitment. Before a decision was made by a previous IDA board, there was one person who handled it all. Lori Smith, Chamber of Commerce president, updated the IDA members on how the split occurred where the IDA would move to focus only on industrial recruitment. “When Betsy (Hueber) was the president of the Chamber of Commerce, 90 percent of her job was economic development. That’s what she was paid for by the IDA…for economic development. The 10 percent was paid by the Chamber to manage the staff and budget. She handled retail recruitment, tourism, and industrial recruitment. The powers on the IDA at that time decided it would be cheaper and less expensive for the IDA and Chamber to split, the IDA board member at that time made a statement that they wanted ‘nothing to do with anything other than industrial recruitment’. They did not want workforce development, government relations, government roundtable, industry roundtable…they only wanted to focus on industrial recruitment,” said Smith. “Right now the chamber has a budget of $120,000 and employees two people. When the Chamber and IDA were together, there was a third employee. Money was being received from the IDA for things like rent and prospects. When the IDA pulled out, the Chamber was left with a huge deficit including a building they couldn’t afford on its own. When it was done there wasn’t any type of agreement. Basically, the board at that time felt that it was in their best interest to move to the county and that position be a count ran position.” The first step in moving forward with this new shift will require researching and gathering date and information on how the system works. IDA Director Kyle Fletcher said that her early findings on recruitment for retail establishment’s three things stick out. Commercial and retail recruitment is driven by numbers; Traffic counts, population, and household income. Several layers are involved in this type of economic recruitment according to Fletcher. A move to partner with real estate brokers, investors, and states officials on what it takes to recruit commercial and retail establishments will need to be established. Looking to see what pieces of property is available will be one of the first things when information is gathered. One positive Fletcher said she has learned through early studies and meeting with those who deal with retail recruitment is no community gives monetary incentives for commercial and retail stores. Frequently, tax abatements are offered but very rarely. “It starts with this board embracing the scope that it has had for a number of decades. ‘Who will be the one to do it’ is asked of me all of the time,” said Allen. “Are we going to go out and hire a consultant to help us in Upson County or are we going to take the ball and run with it. I think the answer is here.” IDA board member Carson Gleaton said Fletcher collecting and gathering information for the move needs to be the first step so that “informed decisions” are made and not “rash decisions”. Frank King agreed with Allen by saying, “somebody has to drive economic development.” After discussion around the table, many said that calls come in to the Chamber, City Manager’s Office, IDA Office, and County Office wanting to know different information on buildings, land, and other things associated with moving a business to the area. Streamlining that information to one person is a goal needed in order for the move to take place. Who that person will be is up for discussion. IDA board member Larry Derico asked Fletcher how it would change the dynamics of her job if the IDA office took on the responsibility. Derico asked, “Everything that you are taking care of in the office now…if we take on a new responsibility, how does that change the dynamics of your job. What does that add to what you have to do? What does it do to your effectiveness as far as recruitment of industry? Fletcher responded, “I feel like this office could effectively do it and there are some resources that I feel are fairly priced that specializes in it,” said Fletcher. “One of the things I learned in the last few weeks from a conference call is the opportunity for some help. Georgia Power recently kicked off a program called Site 360. They have hired a consulting company are providing that service to city’s who use Georgia Power. For example, for $3,500 they will come in and do the retail portion for you. Timing may be perfect for us especially with this program.” IDA board members Carson Gleaton, Larry Derico, Frank King, and Norman Allen agreed unanimously to move forward with the shift to gather information on what it will take to move to more of an economic development. Information gathered on the decision is expected to be brought forward at the IDA’s next meeting set for Aug. 17.
City Extends Contract with Manager
Published 6-14-2017 By Matt Sharpe City officials approved to extend City Manager Russell Thompson’s contract last week following an executive session by the council. According to official minutes from the meeting, city officials approved a new contract with a 5-0 vote. The new contract includes a five percent pay hike. Following the meeting, councilmember Jeff Middlebrooks told the Beacon he had no problem with the contract itself, but opposed the $6,300 increase. Middlebrooks said he was opposed to any individual increases until a final report from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government is released on the city’s pay scale and classification on city employees. The new base salary for Thompson is now $131,000 and with his benefits package the total is around $150,000. The five percent increase is broken down to a four percent pay increase plus the one percent increase all city employees receive after their first year. Tuesday, June 6 marked Thompson’s one-year anniversary with the City of Thomaston.
County Removing ‘Rumble Strips’
Published 5-31-2017 By Matt Sharpe Following complaints to county officials over “rumble strips”, that have been placed on county roads, a move to have them removed from county roads began last week. Not only did the initiative begin, a portion of the strips were removed two days later. Residents on the west end of West County Road presented a petition asking for the strips to be removed and voiced complaints on the noise being created from three strips located towards the end of the road near Hannah’s Mill Road. Kathy Healey, of West County Road, presented a petition of around 20 signatures from neighbors asking the strips be removed. Healey said the strips were placed on the road four weeks ago. She said they were given no warning that the strips were being placed on the road. County officials said they were not warned the strips were being placed either. The strips were placed on the road by DOT officials using what some are calling “surplus funds.” “My neighbors and even distant neighbors were made immediately aware of these rumble stripes by the loud blaring, abrupt even jolting noise and vibration, that they produce in our neighborhood. The noise was and continues to be appallingly loud and quite distressful and disruptive for us,” said Healey. Healey said the strips are causing young students who live near the strips to not be able to sleep along with elderly residents who are also having trouble sleeping due to the noise. She produced date from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation that states the strips should not be placed in residential neighborhoods and said she believes the department has violated the Federal Highway Administration’s noise threshold on noise limits for a residential area. “The stripes that have been laid down in our neighborhood are not near a residential neighborhood, they are in a residential neighborhood with houses in every possible direction impacted and bothered by the excessive noise pollution,” she said. In addition Healey said the strips are violating Upson County’s noise ordinance code. She cited the code that refers to “noise” as “continuous in nature or occurs at frequent or regular intervals, as opposed to a single instance, and does not arise from accident, mistake or emergency and tends to annoy the community, a neighborhood or group of orderly citizens, as opposed to a single individual. “The community near the rumble stripes at West County Road, Woodmier Circle, Sherwood Drive and Church Road, we are such a community and neighborhood and we are such a group of orderly citizens as described in the Upson County code section that are affected adversely by the frequent, regular intervals of excessive, unnecessary and unreasonable noise emitted by rumble stripes,” she said. Rumble strips have also been placed on East County Road. Anthony South said can hear the strips and he lives two miles from where they have been placed. In addition, he is concerned the noise will interfere with his livestock breeding. Following the outcry from the public, county officials agreed to have County Manager Jim Wheeless coordinate with the DOT on having the rumble strips removed, seeing how they are on county roads. Two days after the meeting, the rumble strips were removed on East and West County Road.
County to save $225k on new insurance plan
Published 5-3-2017 By Matt Sharpe Upson County Commissioners received good news last week when they were informed the county would be saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in the upcoming year thanks to good standing with its insurance carrier. County Manager Jim Wheeless said he spoke with the county’s insurance representative who relayed to him the county would be saving $225,000 in annual savings next year. The savings will be through the county’s medical and dental insurance. The county’s plan is with Blue Cross Blue Shield. Wheeless said the county’s claims have been down drastically than in years past. He said one year the county had a 22 percent increase based on two huge claims. The two claims together were for over $2 million for out of state treatment. “We had a very good year and we’re going through a good year that you get to enjoy occasionally,” said Wheeless. Early predictions for the county were around a seven percent increase. Luckily, the county will now see a decrease of nearly 10 percent. In other business, through the first three months, the general revenue for the county is running around $3,019,997. In comparison to 2013, revenue collected through the first three months was only $900,000. Since 2014, revenues have increased nearly $1 million each year. Wheeless said revenue is up in several areas including fines with the court systems. As far as the 2016 SPLOST, $1.2 million has been collected through the one cent sales tax. The monthly average for collections is around $250,000. The county’s water revenue is up, according to Wheeless. A total of $369,218 was collected through the first three months of the year with only $297,938 going out through expenses. Wheeless said the water department is a “self sustaining water department” along with the waste water department which brought in $398,000 and paid out $243,000. In other business, Kelly’s Corner was reapproved for a beer and wine license. Commissioners said the store met all regulations for the re-approval.
2016 SPLOST Funding Renovations for County
Published 4-19-2017 By Matt Sharpe Funds from the 2016 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax are beginning to accumulate which leads to the fun part…spending it. County commissioners approved over $85,000 in expenditures last week thanks to the SPLOST collections. Thanks to old plumbing at the courthouse annex building,major repairs are underway at the site. According to County Manager Jim Wheeless, a sewer line collapsed and a new line is needed to service bathrooms in the building. The low bid from Coggins Construction was approved by commissioners in the amount of $13,514. Johnson Plumbing is a sub with the contract and will install ADA compliance fixtures and toilets in the building. Three bids were received for the project. An ADA compliance front door bid for the annex building was tabled. Commissioner James Ellington had some concerns with the project and bid. His concerns dealt with the inside portion of the project. He said he would like to see some of the project completed in house to save taxpayers money. In addition, he asked that when bids are presented to the board for approval or denial they include more information than just the bid amounts. Ellington said he was “all for local contractors” but he sees the same names on a lot of the bids. He said he has spoken with contractors who had told him they do not bid on contracts because they never were awarded bids. He asked that a list of contractors be compiled and when a project is coming up for bid, a notification be sent to all those on the list. More work will be performed on the roof of the courthouse thanks to an approval by commissioners last week. Pittman-Waller Roofing was approved for the work at a cost of $11,230. Safety is the main concern with the work as a 135’ lift will be used to replace the flashing and reseal areas around the top of the building. The company is bonded, according to county officials and has a one year warranty for any work performed. Protecting the concrete around the courthouse will a concern as the contractor gave no guarantees that it would not crack due to the weight of the lift. Chairman Norman Allen said he has been in the top of the tower and said the clock on the north side is “in bad shape.” Fern Way Road near Sunset Village will receive a new surface in the upcoming weeks following an approval to pave the road by commissioners. Commissioner James Ellington said the road was in “terrible shape” and it needed to be fixed as soon as possible. The road was listed at #13 on the county’s road paving priority list. citing that “gravel has turned to dirt” the road was moved to the top of the list. The county will pave the road in house at a price of $12,000. There are four houses on the road. The Extension Office will receive a 2016 Ford Explorer thanks to funds allocated in the 2016 SPLOST. The new vehicle will replace an outdated Blazer being used to shuttle 4-H students to events. Thomaston Ford was awarded the contract for the vehicle at a price tag of $25,133. The amount to purchase the vehicle is less than the amount set aside in SPLOST. The Civic Center will be getting a new curtain and projection screen for the stage located in the gymnasium part of the building. The funds for the items come by way of the 2011 SPLOST. The low bid from Georgia State was accepted by commissioners in the amount of $20,307. The total includes $15,697 for the curtain and $4,610 for the projection screen.
City Ok's New Debt Reduction Incentive Plan for IDA
Published 3-15-2017 By Matt Sharpe A plan over a year in the making got its first stamp of approval last week as city officials agreed to a debt reduction and incentive plan for the IDA. In January, IDA board members revisited the debt reduction and incentive money program presented by county officials as a way to not increase property taxes and at the same time provide additional funding for economic development. As part of the plan, all three bodies must sign off on it. City officials were the first to do so last week. Insuring that the IDA continues to get the funds from year to year was a concern with the plan that the IDA board had, especially with changes in leadership with county and city officials. In March of 2016, the plan created by County Manager Jim Wheeless, was presented to the IDA. Around that time, IDA board members were pushing for 1 mill of dedicated tax for the IDA. It would be used to pay off debt and establish incentive money for potential industries looking to locate in the Thomaston-Upson area. One mill of tax in Upson County would bring in around $500,000, but last year leaders within county government did not want to raise property taxes and because of that introduced the plan as an alternative. Two loans associated with the IDA would be paid off through the plan. While the loans are associated with the IDA, they are paid by the county. In 2013, Upson County dedicated one mill of tax for the IDA. During that one year, $520,000 was brought in through the tax increase. The money was put into an account for potential prospects but has never been used. The following year, the county pulled the mill of tax from the IDA and the funds went into the county’s general fund. Concerns from City Manager about the plan included the city dedicating funds to buildings and property that are not in the city. Thompson said, “Everybody is pro jobs and pro industry and that is a great thing. My only drawback is we are funding debt service on a piece of property that is not within the incorporated boundary of the city of Thomaston. There is no definite gain for water and sewer service should we land something out there. The only benefit, other than the increase job base, is you’re growing the county’s tax base and not the city’s. I think we’ve kind of already said the city is ok with that, with the inclusion of the debt service that is put into the operational budget to pay this debt off. I just wanted you to be mindful in the future that we may need to negotiate something with the IDA that future incentive money…do we need to direct that to the corporate boundaries of the city or do we want to make a requirement for the use of public utilities prior to any execution of any funds from the city.” City Attorney Joel Bentley who also serves as attorney for the IDA said there are benefits with the agreement. “Of having gone through this, frequently an industry of substantial size will come in and will start throwing around a number of jobs and investment in the community. Then we say...we can give you this, and then I have to scramble around, talking to bankers at the table, to find out what we have to give to get a release on this. It allows the entire community to have a lot of flexibility of a fairly large industry that comes in, with the comfort level of knowing you can make a promise you can actually keep without a lot of future borrowing.” Councilman Doug Head said one of the main things he hears from constituents is a wish for more restaurants and things to do. “Most all those things that we would like to have are driven by demographics within your community. The way to get down that road is to invest to attract industries or businesses that can provide more jobs. I am all for doing what we can to support the IDA and this is a way in which we can step through the door and walk down the road without having to commit (the city and county) to raising a millage rate.” Head made the motion to accept the plan. His motion was seconded by Ryan Tucker. The motion passed 5-0 by the council. The five year proposal goes something like this: Editors Note: The following figures were revised February 2016. Balances listed are from that time. The county would take the $520,000 and pay off a loan on the Central Georgia Business and Technology Park (Dester land). In 2000, the note was for $1.26 million. The note was for 20 years and it matures March 1, 2020. The remaining balance is $231,216. Paying off the note would save roughly $20,000 in interest. Paying off that loan would leave a balance of $288,783 from the tax increase. The currently balance for the SPEC building in the technology park is $451,010. The SPEC building note began in 2002 in the amount of $1.3 million. It also was a 20 year note and matures Sept. 15, 2024. The $288,783 would be used to pay off the SPEC building debt leaving a balance of $162,226. The IDA has approximately $400,000 in CD’s that will be used to pay off the remaining balance of $162,226. If paid off, it would save approximately $80,000 in interest. Annual payments from the two loans $90,165 and $67,987 ($158,152 total), would still be dedicated to the IDA and would continue to be in the IDA’s annual budget. In five years the annual payments would amount to $790,760. The money could be used for incentive money for potential prospects. Paying off those two loans associated with the IDA would still two loans to be paid. One of the loans is a second loan on the SPEC building that One-Georgia Equity Fund Award holds. The loan is an interest free loan paid quarterly. The loan has a balance of $243,750 and matures Jan. 1, 2027. The $6,250 payment is paid quarterly. Along with the debt reduction, a letter of commitment would be provided to the IDA where the Upson County Board of Commissioners and the City Council would commit up to $1 million to allow the IDA to deal directly with a prospect. When the IDA has an approved client agreement, the joint authorities could borrow the money needed to seal the deal with the approved client. The IDA would then make monthly payments once the joint authorities borrow through the Office Building Authority (OBA). The following week, county commissioners approved the same incentive plan and debt reduction plan for the IDA. The plan is expected to move to the IDA's next meeting scheduled for March 27, 2017.
Six 2011 SPLOST projects Overspent
Published 3-8-2017 By Matt Sharpe Six projects on the 2011 SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) came in over budget and unused funds from completed projects in the same SPLOST are being used to pay for those items, according to paperwork provided after last week’s Upson County Commissioners final meeting of February. A total of $738,754 was overspent on the six projects. The following items were overspent: • Improvements/Repairs to Practice Fields: Budgeted- $500,000; Spent- $558,418 • Sheriff Dept. Patrol Vehicles: Budgeted- $520,000; Spent- $644,954 (overage is from the outfitting of the vehicles) • Road Dept. Equipment: Budgeted- $360,000; Spent- $455,604 • IT Improvements: Budgeted- $150,000; Spent- $177,289 • Sprewell Bluff Park Development: Budgeted- $100,000; Spent- $497,634 • County Building Renovations: Budgeted-$200,000; Spent- $354,329 Chairman Norman Allen made the motion to deem five projects with the 2011 SPLOST complete and use remaining funds from those projects to pay for the overages with the six over budget items. The five projects that came in under budget and have been deemed complete included: • Civic Center Renovations: Budgeted- $2,100,000; Spent- $1,183,265 ($200,000 will be used for painting, the replacement of doors, and a new stage curtain) • Trucks for Departments: Budgeted- $90,000; Spent- $89,747 • EMA Replacement Truck: Budgeted-$130,000; Spent- $129,873 • Improvements at Animal Shelter: Budgeted-$175,000; Spent- $173,249 • Hightower Library Repairs: Budgeted- $150,000; Spent- $79,113 The motion to move the unspent funds to pay for the overages passed with a 4-0 vote by the BOC. Renovations are coming to the Archives and R.E. Lee Auditorium following an approval by commissioners last week. Roller shelf inserts were approved by the commissioners to be installed at the Archives in the amount of $4,556. The R.E. Lee Auditorium is scheduled to be repainted and new carpet will be installed. Martie Murphy Contracting was approved as the low bidder for the painting work inside the auditorium. Approved was a contract for $22,800 to repaint the inside of the auditorium. Middle Georgia Carpet was approved to replace the carpet in the auditorium at a cost of $18,076.70. Finding a reputable contractor to repair leaks around the dome and roof of the courthouse has become a chore for the county. A short time ago, an out of state contractor was used to repair leaks at the courthouse, but the work has not held up and additional work is now needed to stop water from leaking inside the courthouse. A major item needed for the work is a 135’ lift so that the work can actually be performed under codes and guidelines. Only one bid was received for the work ($11,230) and a warranty was not given with the contractor (Pittman-Waller). Additional prices for fixing concrete if it is damaged by the lift or cleaning the concrete from marks left by tires on the lift were not given by the contractor. In other business, a change order was approved for the retention pond at the civic center. The change order will have the hill at the softball field cut down and fencing will be added to keep people out of the area. The cost is estimated at $36,825. Following a public hearing, additional funds from 2016 Occupational Tax collections were approved to be put into the county’s general fund. For the year, the county collected an additional $14,415.50 in Occupational Taxes and due to state law the revenue increase needed a public hearing and an official vote by the BOC as to where the funds would be placed must be made. The additional revenue to be placed in the county’s general fund was approved 5-0.
By Matt Sharpe Six projects on the 2011 SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) came in over budget and unused funds from completed projects in the same SPLOST are being used to pay for those items, according to paperwork provided after last week’s Upson County Commissioners final meeting of February. A total of $738,754 was overspent on the six projects. The following items were overspent: • Improvements/Repairs to Practice Fields: Budgeted- $500,000; Spent- $558,418 • Sheriff Dept. Patrol Vehicles: Budgeted- $520,000; Spent- $644,954 (overage is from the outfitting of the vehicles) • Road Dept. Equipment: Budgeted- $360,000; Spent- $455,604 • IT Improvements: Budgeted- $150,000; Spent- $177,289 • Sprewell Bluff Park Development: Budgeted- $100,000; Spent- $497,634 • County Building Renovations: Budgeted-$200,000; Spent- $354,329 Chairman Norman Allen made the motion to deem five projects with the 2011 SPLOST complete and use remaining funds from those projects to pay for the overages with the six over budget items. The five projects that came in under budget and have been deemed complete included: • Civic Center Renovations: Budgeted- $2,100,000; Spent- $1,183,265 ($200,000 will be used for painting, the replacement of doors, and a new stage curtain) • Trucks for Departments: Budgeted- $90,000; Spent- $89,747 • EMA Replacement Truck: Budgeted-$130,000; Spent- $129,873 • Improvements at Animal Shelter: Budgeted-$175,000; Spent- $173,249 • Hightower Library Repairs: Budgeted- $150,000; Spent- $79,113 The motion to move the unspent funds to pay for the overages passed with a 4-0 vote by the BOC. Renovations are coming to the Archives and R.E. Lee Auditorium following an approval by commissioners last week. Roller shelf inserts were approved by the commissioners to be installed at the Archives in the amount of $4,556. The R.E. Lee Auditorium is scheduled to be repainted and new carpet will be installed. Martie Murphy Contracting was approved as the low bidder for the painting work inside the auditorium. Approved was a contract for $22,800 to repaint the inside of the auditorium. Middle Georgia Carpet was approved to replace the carpet in the auditorium at a cost of $18,076.70. Finding a reputable contractor to repair leaks around the dome and roof of the courthouse has become a chore for the county. A short time ago, an out of state contractor was used to repair leaks at the courthouse, but the work has not held up and additional work is now needed to stop water from leaking inside the courthouse. A major item needed for the work is a 135’ lift so that the work can actually be performed under codes and guidelines. Only one bid was received for the work ($11,230) and a warranty was not given with the contractor (Pittman-Waller). Additional prices for fixing concrete if it is damaged by the lift or cleaning the concrete from marks left by tires on the lift were not given by the contractor. In other business, a change order was approved for the retention pond at the civic center. The change order will have the hill at the softball field cut down and fencing will be added to keep people out of the area. The cost is estimated at $36,825. Following a public hearing, additional funds from 2016 Occupational Tax collections were approved to be put into the county’s general fund. For the year, the county collected an additional $14,415.50 in Occupational Taxes and due to state law the revenue increase needed a public hearing and an official vote by the BOC as to where the funds would be placed must be made. The additional revenue to be placed in the county’s general fund was approved 5-0.
Housing Authority Makes Annual Payment to City
Thomaston Housing Authority representatives Executive Director Patricia Allen and Chairman Sandy Kersey presented a check for more than $50,000 to the City of Thomaston last week. The Housing Authority, a government agency doesn’t pay property taxes; however, they make an annual PILOT payment (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) which is calculated at 10 percent of the shelter rent.
GOVERNMENT SOUND OFF
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