County’s financial position is solid and stable...says BOC Chairman
Submitted by BOC Chairman Norman Allen
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
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