Changes to proposed RV ordinance to be discussed by BOC
Published 8-8-2018 By Matt Sharpe Upson County’s Board of Commissioners discuss an updated version of a proposed RV ordinance next week during the commission’s meeting set for Tuesday, Aug. 14. The meeting will be held at the Government Complex at 6 p.m. Anyone wishing to voice an opinion on the proposed updated version can do so by signing up prior to the meeting. Upson County Planning and Zoning officials have been diligently working to update the county’s recreational vehicles ordinance during the past few months. Recreational vehicles have been regulated minimally by Upson County since the adoption of the County Zoning Ordinance in 1995. Updating the ordinance will create additional standards for recreational vehicle use and storage to remedy situations where recreational vehicles are being used improperly and stored in improper places. According to information provided by Planning and Zoning Director Doug Currier, Upson County Board of Commissioners have, “determined that the proposed ordinance additions meet the required review standards and serve to enhance the public health, safety, morality or general welfare of Upson County.” Revisions to the ordinance are focused on providing definitions of recreational vehicles. Determining the definitions of recreational vehicles will include occupied recreation vehicles, parked recreational vehicles, recreational vehicle sites, and visitor and camper registry. An updated ordinance is expected to outline how temporary use of RVs in the M-1 and M-2 zoning districts by special exception will be enforced. Upson’s current policy is that RVs are not considered to be suitable for permanent residential living, but for short-term vacations, itinerant travel, temporary emergency shelter and special circumstances for housing. The updated ordinance is expected to outline how RVs are expected to serve as a short-term guest housing on a residential lot for no more than 30 days a year and how RVs are to serve as a short-term residence in RV parks for documented work purposes for no more than 12 months in a 24-month period. The ordinance will create new standards for RV parks that will provide avenues for enforcement.
County agrees to roll back millage rate
Published 8-1-2018 By Matt Sharpe Upson County commissioners are in agreement to roll back the county’s millage rate. The announcement was made July 24 during the commission’s meeting at the Government Complex. Chairman Norman Allen said interim county manager Billy Beckett and finance director Wayne Sandefur looked over the rollback and were comfortable with recommended rollback rate from Tax Commissioner Andy Chastain. The county agreed to roll back the millage from 9.52 to 9.00. Even with the rollback, an increase in revenue is expected to be around the $238,000 mark for the county. Commissioners agreed unanimously agreed to set the countywide millage rate at 9.00. The Thomaston Upson School Board set a tentative 2018 property tax millage rate of 14.338 at a regular meeting held July 17. This is a rollback from the 2017 rate of 15.110 due to a property tax reassessment. Thomaston city council members agreed to roll back its millage rate earlier this month essentially keeping it the same rate as previous years. Last year’s city millage rate was set at 3.77 mills. A roll back in the rate will drop it to 3.56 mills. While the millage rate will be reduced to offset the drastic increased in adjusted property values, the amount being collected through the new rate will from a collection of $770,229 in 2017 to $775,896 for 2018. The county’s net digest is $616,149,587, a 10.5 percent increase. The school’s net digest is $599,230,661.00, a 10.7 percent increase. The city’s net digest is $217,863,074, a 6.6 increase.
Board of Education approves 2019 General Fund Budget
8-1-2018 by Jim Wheeless The Thomaston Upson Board of Education held a work session Tuesday June 26, with the major agenda item of approving the 2019 school year General Fund budget. The BOE unanimously approved the proposed budget with expenditures totaling $36,475,865 and expected revenues totaling $36,547,622. The largest portion of the revenues will be collected from federal and state taxes, with an estimated $8,600,808 collected from local property taxes. This year’s school tax millage rate dropped from 15.11 mills to 14.29 due to the recent property reassessments and the lower millage rate is pending approval of the final tax digest. The local property tax revenue was calculated based on the 14.29 millage rate and the estimate of one mill of tax collecting $601,876. In other business the board approved the Thomaston City Police Department to use the ULMS gym for their Annual Youth Basketball Tournament and approved a list of surplus equipment for the ULPS. The board adjourned to an executive session for the discussion of personnel.
Sixth Dollar General approved for Upson
Published 5-30-2018 Upson County is set to receive another Dollar General following an approval by Upson’s planning and zoning board. A variance for the store was granted by the commission Monday, May 14. The location for the store will be at the corner of Hwy 36 and Technology Parkway, at the entrance of Upson County’s Central Georgia Business and Technology Park. The lot is owned by Donnie Tyler and is the site of TLC Lawn Care. The area is currently zoned a commercial lot, but due to a variance request, the issue had to be brought before the planning and zoning board. The issue dealt with Dollar General requesting a reduction in the number of parking spaces from 38 to 30. Each space will be nine and one-half feet wide instead of the nine feet wide requested. Zoning Director Doug Currier recommended denying the request due to it not meeting Upson County zoning ordinance guidelines. The project will move forward and does not require approval by the Upson County Commission. The building is expected to be an upgraded version due to it being at the corner of Upson’s industrial park and will be one of the smaller sizes Dollar General builds. Construction on the building is not expected to start until the end of the year, possibly at the beginning of 2019. This will be Dollar General Number six for Upson County.
County’s financial position is solid and stable...says BOC Chairman
Upson County Chairman Norman Allen
Submitted by BOC Chairman Norman Allen Published 3-14-2018 I am humbled to serve as your Chairman on the Upson County Board of Commissioners and want to take a moment to reflect on our community’s accomplishments for 2017. We are finalizing our 2017 finances, and I am happy to report that your county’s financial position is solid and stable. Responsible management of expenditures and deliberate collections of revenue resulted in an increase of $1.5 million in the year end General Fund balance for a total of $6.6 million. This increase is due in large part to diligent oversight of spending and higher than expected revenues. This commission began the year faced with a dramatic increase in county employee pension funding. We researched other opportunities and shifted management of the fund and realized an annual savings of approximately $600,000 with no reduction to employee benefits. Revenues are up by $329,000 due in large part to diligent efforts of Tax Commissioner Chastain and his staff. Judge McRae and her staff experienced a notable increase in activity within the Probate Office with revenues increasing by 45 percent compared to 2016. These are just some highlights. Putting this into perspective, consider that in 2014 the county had only $2.5 million in working capital, meaning there was not much of a reserve fund, our savings or “rainy day” account. I want to thank our previous commissioners and former manager, Jim Wheeless, for recognizing the need to begin building our reserve funds. Today we are in a position to dedicate funding to protect our county should something unforeseen or catastrophic occur. The Commission recognized the need to take action on the management of SPLOST project management and spending as several projects were considerably over budget. The Commission either had to pay back the SPLOST out of our general fund or identify other projects that were nearing completion and below budget allowing for the reallocation of funds from these completed projects. Today the management of SPLOST is overseen by the commission and the approval of expenditures is routinely handled at regular commission meetings. For the first time in years we realized a slight increase on the tax digest due to revaluation of properties and we adjusted the millage rate to prevent an increase in county tax. Periodic revaluations are required in order to maintain the mandated sales ratio; assessed values compared to actual sales. Most remember the drastic hit on our home values back in 2007; the good news is that values are on the rise. Please keep in mind that this does not mean an automatic increase in your property taxes. Earlier this year the Board set our priorities for 2018, items that we could get done and so that we could move on to other issues. Addressing the vacant county manager position is at the top of the list. Fortunately we successfully hired Mr. Billy Beckett to serve as our interim manager and to assist us in our search for a permanent manager. Mr. Beckett is a professional manager with over 40 years of government management. An invaluable leader and expert in county management, he has been of tremendous help and his contributions to Upson County are too numerous to list here. With his assistance the Board is actively seeking a new manager and we are optimistic we will have someone hired in the coming weeks. Other priorities included addressing the Sunday sales referendum which will be included on the May ballot; finalizing revisions to the recreation vehicle and poultry house ordinances; updating the ordinance and procedures for building permitting and inspections; and addressing the needs of our courts. Projects on our short-term list include continued efforts to expand sewer services along Highway 19 north of County Road, refinement of a business plan for Sprewell Bluff Park, consideration of a single county T-SPLOST to fund road improvement projects, and addressing problems with solid waste collections. Committed to cleaning up our communities the Board is looking at ways to address blight and neglected properties. Our code enforcement officer, Judge Streetman and Sheriff Kilgore are committed to this effort. Sheriff Kilgore has taken over the management of community service and has the teams out on the roadways collecting trash. To date, they have collected over 1,000 bags of trash. Much of our focus is aimed at ensuring economic growth, prosperity and responsible development for our community. We can all be quite proud of the efforts of the Industrial Development Authority, or as I prefer to call it the “Development Authority”. We have expanded the role of the Authority to include retail and commercial development along with the pursuit of industrial and manufacturing opportunities. It is exciting to see our newest industry, Golden Star, work to build out our spec building to meet their needs with the goal of becoming operational sometime this May. Other prospects are in the works and the new challenge we face is a lack of inventory of buildings for new businesses; something the Authority is addressing. Our existing industries are thriving and jobs are available throughout the community and region. Southern Crescent Technical College along with our local industries and school system continue partnerships focused on improving workforce skills. Our high school students have opportunities to enhance their own technical and personal skills through dual-enrollment programs. Anyone seeking to improve their and skills can do so through a multitude of programs. I encourage the use of our regional commission’s workforce development programs. Our Thomaston-Upson Heart & Soul program is in Phase One, and we’re excited to see more and more citizens volunteering to become a part of this program aimed at figuring out what matters most to our community. This program is best summarized – who are we and who do we want to be as a community? Involving everyone and sustaining a commitment to the work ahead are the other tenants of the Heart & Soul program. We are proud that we are the first community in Georgia selected for this program. We are fortunate to have Jennifer Rogers serving as our program coordinator. I ask that you commit to learning more about this program and become involved in our efforts charting a course for our community. I am happy to report that your Commission is committed to the work ahead, and I’m proud of the positive results we are seeing. Much of the success we are experiencing can be attributed to a renewed partnership between all of your elected bodies and officials. I am proud of the relationships and the true sense of teamwork we’ve established with each of our county’s constitutional officers. We’re committed to continually building upon the positive relationships between the county and the city knowing that we are in this together. We have our challenges and finding innovative ways to solve our problems and address our needs isn’t easy. Your Commission is dedicated to the task of focusing on long-term solutions through strategic planning and wise investment of resources. The “band aid approach” to problem solving does not provide for long-term solutions. It takes the commitment of each citizen and true investment in our future to really make a difference for ourselves and our generations to come. We thank you for your commitment and support.
Projected Costs for public buildings exceed budgeted amounts
Published 2-28-2018 By Matt Sharpe Three government buildings will cost Upson County and the City of Thomaston a lot more than anticipated after bids were received on improvements to the sites. Upson County is looking to demolish its road department building and replace it with a metal building. The building, formerly the Public Works Building across from the old fairgrounds, will be torn down and replaced with a 50x75 metal building. Cost for the demolition was expected to be around $40,000 with high priority being given to the removal of asbestos and lead testing. The total cost for removal and replacement of the building was expected to be around $217,000. Unfortunately, the amount to remove the building and construct a new building is $93,000 more than anticipated. Interim County Manager Billy Becket updated commissioners Feb. 13 on the issue. Beckett said asbestos, lead paint, along with mold and mildew, will be a problem during demolition. Approximately $6,500 is needed to remove and legally dispose of the asbestos through an outside company. The lead paint will be disposed of at the Butler Landfill. The county has $150,000 set aside in SPLOST funds for the demolition and renovations Beckett proposed using funds set aside for renovations of the forestry building as a supplement for the additional needed funds. A total of $320,000 has been allocated for the forestry building, but according to Beckett, only $200,000 will be needed for the upgrades and renovations. The remaining funds will be used to cover the cost of the increases for the road department building. One week later, City Manager Russell Thompson updated councilmembers on two projects budgeted for this year; additional renovations on the Thomaston Police Department building and renovation of the armory building. McLeroy Construction of Zebulon turned in the lowest bids on both city projects. Bids for the TPD building came in at $229,700, roughly $53,000 over the amount allocated in the 2018 budget for the projects. Repairs included relocating the existing HVAC unit on the roof, adding a metal hip roof over the existing two story building, and repairing two original exterior walls. Bids received for renovations at the armory came in at $638,459, more than $338,000 over the city’s budgeted amount. The city is looking to relocate several of its departments to the building, including the electric, water, and parks and public spaces departments. In addition to upgrading the interior and exterior of the building, a 5,000-square-foot area is expected to be paved to connect the armory parking lot to an existing rear parking area. The council is expected to discuss the matter further during the council’s next meeting set for Tuesday, March 6 at 7 p.m. at the Government Complex.
County seeking $1.6 million GEFA grant for proposed north side sewer project
The targeted area is between County Road and Jeff Davis Road on Hwy 19 and a subdivision situated between Jeff Davis Road and West County Road.
Published 2-7-2018 By Matt Sharpe Upson County has officially applied for a Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) loan through a state revolving fund, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Upson is seeking $1,609,000 through the grant for a sewer system extension project. The extension would provide service to an existing commercial area on the north side of Thomaston. The proposed location is between County Road and Jeff Davis Road on Hwy 19, with a portion of the line extending west on Jeff Davis Road before shifting south through a subdivision situated between Jeff Davis and West County Road. The expansion would provide sanitary sewerage service to an existing commercial area where many businesses have struggled to operate using individual on-site waste disposal systems. The project includes installation of approximately 8,300 linear feet of 8" gravity sewers. Approximately 5,000 feet would be constructed within or adjacent to the U.S. highway 19 right of way and the remaining 3,300 feet of sewer line would cross undeveloped land to convey a portion of the sewage to an existing 12" sanitary sewer interceptor. The project will have minor impact on wetlands, but wetlands will be delineated prior to design to minimize the impact. The project will also have minor impact on flood plain, but majority of work will be with existing road right of way, no addition fill will be placed within the flood plain. There will be no anticipated adverse secondary impacts associated with the project. Consequently, a preliminary decision not to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement has been made. The project is not anticipated to result in adverse environmental impacts beyond those that can be easily mitigated with minimal extra expense or delay in project implementation. The monthly cost for wastewater treatment for a typical household will not increase to generate revenue to finance the project, according to Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director Richard Dunn. A public information meeting was held on Oct. 3, 2017 at Upson County Commission meeting room to discuss the proposed project. No comments were received during the 30-day advertisement period prior to the meeting and during the meeting.
County approves $5 Million TAN
Published 1-17-2018 By Matt Sharpe Upson County has set its limit for operating expenses for 2018. Approved Tuesday, Jan. 9 was a $5 million Tax Anticipation Note (TAN). The TAN was approved with a 5-0 vote from the Board of Commissioners. TAN is a short-term debt security issued by a state or local government that can be used to finance an immediate project that will be repaid with future tax collections. State and local governments also use a tax anticipation note to borrow money, typically for one year or less and at a low interest rate, in order to finance capital expenditures. The government then uses the following year's tax revenue to repay the TAN. This year’s low interest bid went to Colony Bank. Through a sealed bid, Colony was the winner with an interest rate of 2.195 percent. Two other local banks, United Bank and SouthCrest Bank, participated in the bid process. United Bank turned in a bid of 2.274 percent and SouthCrest bid 2.33 percent. Upson County has paid its $5 million TAN from 2017. Upson borrowed $4.6 million of the note from Colony Bank at 1.79 percent. Upson has gradually been able to decrease its amount of funds being borrowed through the TAN. In 2016, Upson borrowed $6 million through a TAN and paid back just short of $5 million. In other business during the BOC’s meeting Tuesday, Commissioner James Ellington was selected to serve as the vice-chairman for the Board of Commissioners for 2018.
City agrees to raise annual contract for Water Department to $2.5 million
Published 1-10-2018 By Matt Sharpe City officials unanimously agreed to increase its contract amount with ESG for the management of the Thomaston Water Department last week. ESG has managed the water and wastewater services since Jan. 1, 2017. The new contract is for $2,506,129. It includes a 1.9 percent increase ($46,729) from the original contract of $2,459,400. The original contract inked between the two entities was for two years and included a provision where annual adjustments could be made if agreed upon by both the city and ESG. The increase was included in the city’s 2018 budget. The increase is from raises associated with water department staff and the costs associated with benefits. City Manager Russell Thompson said he has been “very pleased” with ESG’s management of the water and wastewater services. Councilman Don Greathouse added that he has been “very pleased with the services provided to the city and made the motion to approve the increase. The motion was seconded by councilman Jeff Middlebrooks and approved 4-0 by the council. ESG Operations, Inc. of Macon, Ga. was one of four companies to bid on the management of Thomaston’s Water Department when it was awarded the contract in Dec. of 2016. Thomaston’s previous service provider, Severn Trent, managed the facility for five years. The original contract stated that ESG would provide 24 employees to operate and maintain the department. During the transition in 2017, all employees who passed background checks and drug screenings were given a 2.5 percent raise from day one, and their built up sick leave and benefits were to be calculated to ESG’s employee structure. Project Manager for Thomaston is Brian Kelly. He serves as first contact with the department. ESG has over 700 employees over the southeast. Of those, 500 employees are with projects ESG maintains in Georgia. The company provides the same service to several cities in the area including Barnesville, Ga.
Energy agreement inked in 2010, costing County $200k annually for A service they’re not getting
Published 12-13-2017 By Matt Sharpe An agreement inked more than seven years ago to help save the county thousands, has turned into the county owing hundreds of thousands. During the county’s ongoing budget meetings with department directors, County Chairman Norman Allen asked for more information on a contract signed in August of 2010 for services with Linc Mechanical Engineering. When the contract was signed the intent was to save the county upwards of $100,000 a year in energy costs. But in turn it is costing the county $213,000 per year for a service they are not getting. County officials signed a 12-year, $2 million agreement with the company with annual payments of $213,000 in 2010. The contract was for the equipment with additional fees set for maintenance of the equipment. Since that time, county manager Jim Wheeless has canceled the agreement for the maintenance leaving at least five years left on the hefty $213,000 annual payment to the company for the equipment. Five county buildings had the air conditioning systems installed including the old DOT building, Archives, Government Complex, Courthouse, and Civic Center. Since the systems were installed three buildings, DOT, Archives, and Civic Center have had new systems installed so the county could oversee the maintenance. Left to be changed out is the Government Complex and Courthouse. When those two are replaced, all five will be under the control of the county. Board members stated at the meeting the county has more than five years of a $200,000 payment and “we’re not getting anything in return”. Further examination of the contract is expected to be performed by the county’s attorneys but it was said at the meeting the contract is “iron clad”. The county is looking at a potential buyout of the contract.
County Road Department Building to be Razed
Upson County's Road Department Building is set to be torn down during the next few weeks
Published 10-4-2017 By Matt Sharpe The County Road Department will get a new building in the near future following a vote by county commissioners to demolished the department’s existing building. County Manager Jim Wheeless updated county commissioners on the project. The building, formerly the Public Works Building across from the old fairgrounds, will be torn down and replaced with a 50x75 metal building. Cost for the demolition is expected to be around $40,000 with high priority being given to the removal of asbestos and lead testing. The total cost for removal and replacement of the building is expected to be around $217,000. Of that, the metal building will run around $100,000. An office area will be constructed using in-house labor will cost around $58,000. An architect’s rending of the building will be $11,200. A total of $150,000 was set aside in the 2016 SPLOST for the road department and public buildings. In other business, county commissioners approved additional expenditures using 2016 SPLOST funds. Lights for the parking lot at the Senior Center were approved at a cost of $1,597. Patio furniture for the outdoor seating area at the center was also approved. A plasma cutter for the road department was approved for purchase using SPLOST funds, along with eight outdoor security cameras for the courthouse. The cameras will come with a price tag of $4,423. While all of those projects were approved by commissioners, one project that involves replacing the carpet in the upstairs area of the Government Complex was put on hold. The cost for the project is $13,522. The carpet was to be replaced with the same laminate flooring that was placed on the bottom floor of the building last month. Commissioner James Ellington questioned why the project needed to be done and added that he looked at the carpet and he thinks the flooring could wait for at least a year before it needs to be replaced. The project was put on hold by commissioners.
Officials agree to prioritize paving of county roads
Published 10-4-2017 By Matt Sharpe In an effort to “take the politics” out of the order in which county roads will be paved, county commissioners approved last week a road assessment agreement with Vaughn and Melton. Officials agreed with a 5-0 vote to award the $31,500 contract to the company. Funds to pay for the comprehensive assessment will come from the 2016 SPLOST. Last month Vaughn and Melton representative David Millen presented county officials with the road assessment plan. Prioritizing the paving of county roads was first discussed last month. At that time, just one-third of the streets were being considered as part of the assessment. After further discussion, county officials agreed to have all county roads prioritized. The roads are listed in very poor or poor condition in order of priority and a numeric assessment rating has been assigned to each road. The higher the ranking the better the road; the ranking is strictly based on asphalt grading and does not take traffic count into consideration. The roads will be repaired and/or repaved as funds are available.
Eight miles of county roads to get new surface
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.
GOVERNMENT SOUND OFF
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