city council approves 2019 budget
Includes step increase for employees
By Jim Wheeless
City Manager Russell Thompson presented the 2019 budget to the City Council in the amount $27,941,803 million. This is an increase of $130,682 over the 2018 budget and the General Fund Budget of 7,850,392 is an increase of $281,000. The Council unanimously approved the budget including a 1.25% ($65,000) step increase for employees and a $20,000 Department Head Salary and Benefit Consideration.
Health insurance had 5% increased of $29,500 and other insurance had an 11% increased of $23,591. The approved 2019 budget contains a 1 mil a tax increase however the 2018 budget contain a 1.5 mil tax increase but the Council did not have to raise the millage rate this year. Mayor J.D Stallings is confident that the tax increase will not be necessary. The millage rates are usually set in August of each year.
The amount budgeted for road paving is $230,000 and with $260,000 budgeted for water system improvements, mostly at Lake Thomaston. These are the two biggest items in this year’s budget.
Councilman Ryan Tucker was happy that the 2019 budget does not include using major dollars from the reserve fund. In 2018 $993,000 was transferred with only $215,000 targeted for 2019. Councilman Tucker said city hall has been using too much of its reserve to balance its budgets.
Police Chief Mike Richardson made a presentation of the promotion of Officer Derrick Little to Corporal. Chief Richardson said Officer Little has been with the Police Department for approximately two years and had work very hard to complete the courses required for the promotion.
Corporal Little’s father, Lieutenant Jeff Little, pinned the new corporal badge on his son. Lieutenant Little has been with the Police Department approximately 24 years.
Council approved minor changes to the sign ordinance for R1 zone, the FOG ordinance and approved a change order of $22,000 to Georgia Asphalt for the LMIG paving project on B Street and County Road.
Appointment of a new member to the Industrial Development Authority was tabled by the Council until the January meeting. Mayor Stallings has been talking with a prospect. The January regular scheduled meeting has been scheduled for Jan. 7, at noon.
jqc suspends superior court judge robert "mac" crawford
By Jim Wheeless
In April of 2018 news was released of Griffin Judicial Circuit Judge Robert “Mac” Crawford being investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The investigation stemmed from allegations that Judge Crawford directed the Pike County Clerk of Superior Court to write him a check that exceeded $15,000 from the registry of the court and he stands accused of depositing it into his personal checking account. At that time Judge Crawford voluntarily disqualified himself from all pending and future criminal cases to include civil forfeitures in all four counties in the circuit until further order.
In October the Pike County grand jury indicted Judge Crawford for the alleged theft of $15,675 in court funds. Following a criminal probe by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, a prosecutor from the state Attorney General’s Office requested the grand jury to indict Judge Crawford on one count of theft by taking and one count of violation of oath by a public official.
The three-member hearing panel of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission notified Judge Crawford that he was formally suspended until further notice. The suspension was the second effort by the JQC to remove Crawford from the bench until his scheduled ethics trial in January. The JQC’s investigative panel asked the state high court to suspend Crawford while ethics charges against him were still pending but the Georgia Supreme Court rejected by a unanimous vote the request to suspend Judge Crawford from the Griffin Judicial Circuit. At that time Judge Crawford remained on the bench, although he has disqualified himself from hearing criminal cases and state child support cases.
Under the JQC’s rules the hearing panel has the authority to suspend Judge Crawford without the high court’s approval. The three member hearing panel that handed out the suspension is Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Robert McBurney, Cobb County Police Mike Register and Atlanta Attorney Jamala McFadden. Judge Crawford is suspended until after his ethics trial scheduled in January 20109.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission was created by Constitutional Amendment in 1972, and then reconstituted by Constitutional Amendment in 2016, to conduct investigations and hearings with respect to complaints of ethical misconduct by Georgia judges. The Commission is also authorized to issue Advisory Opinions regarding judicial misconduct.
The Commission is comprised of 10 members. Seven members serve on the Investigative Panel and three members serve on the Hearing Panel. The Investigative Panel is responsible for investigating and prosecuting allegations of judicial misconduct. The Hearing Panel is primarily responsible for adjudicating hearings when the Investigative Panel brings such charges of misconduct.
Judge Crawford may petition the hearing panel to lift the suspension. The rules, which track language in the state Constitution, also bar the commission’s findings or records regarding a suspension from being admitted as evidence in court and also dictate that they not be made available to the public.
Council for Judge Crawford has countered the allegations by declaring the funds in question are legal fees that have been owed to Crawford for 16 years from a case that originated in 2002 and the funds were properly received by Judge Crawford.
Once the JQC inquired into the payment, Judge Crawford returned the funds and the Pike County Clerk forwarded the m to the State of Georgia, Department of Revenue as abandoned funds. Judge Crawford is claiming a right to the funds and he has filed a petition in the Probate Court of Pike County with the intention to make a claim for attorney’s fees against the estate and to have the funds paid over to him by the State of Georgia.”
Judge Crawford is a former state legislator who once headed Georgia’s public defender system, and presided over cases in Fayette, Spalding, Pike and Upson counties.
tsplost set for march ballot
The first joint meeting of the Thomaston Mayor and City Council, Upson County Commissioners, and City of Yatesville council regarding the call for the referendum of a one cent sales tax Transportation SPLOST set for the Mar. 19 ballot was held early last week.
The five year TSPLOST has been estimated by officials to generate over $3 million annually, and total $16 million at its conclusion.
Allocation of funds for the TSPLOST were reportedly $160,000 to the City of Yatesville, $6.88 million to the city of Thomaston, and $8.96 million to Upson County.
Projects that fall under the specifications of the TSPLOST referendum include acquisition, construction, renovation, relocation of utilities, and improvement of surface water drainage, patching, levelling, milling, widening, shoulder prep, and other repairs necessary for the preservation of roads, streets, bridges, sidewalks, and bicycle paths.
Several projects were brought to attention by the city of Yatesville Council that would gain priority in the event the TSPLOST was passed in March. These projects included overflown culverts, problems with the patching of roads because of issues with the antiquated water system in the city, and issues where roads have simply been patched with gravel.
In regards to the county, BOC Chairman Norman Allen noted, “As we talk about our need, I think once people realize when you have 505 roads and around 420 miles of pavement, you just don’t get there doing six to eight miles a year… It’s difficult. We have to do it. We have to pave the roads.”
Groundbreaking achievements in 2019 county budget
The Upson County Board of Commissioners approved the 2019 general fund budget by unanimous vote in last week’s regular meeting, and were eager to report a handful of landmark achievements realized within the document.
According to BOC Chairman Norman Allen, “The bottom-line was $16,473,455, which represents a 4.7% decrease over last year’s budget. That’s $810,000 less than last year.”
This dramatic decrease stems from a decision facilitated by the board to seek out a different company responsible for the management of retirement benefits of county employees.
Allen claimed, “A lot of what we’re seeing here is primarily due to the change in the employee pension plan. That was a huge decision this board made. We didn’t touch the benefits, but we just changed providers. In essence, that was a $1 million decision.”
In order to eliminate the dual role currently undertaken by the Upson facilities director, the 2019 plan will include an $80,009 allotment for the hiring of a certified building official. Additionally, a $50,000 reserve was set aside for tourism development interests.
In regard to the reserve, County Manager Jason Tinsley claimed, “During the work session we had a lengthy discussion about different initiatives ranging from things that may stem from the chamber’s efforts to try to do some cohesive branding for the community, and some things that might also come out of Community Heart & Soul.”
The completion of the 2019 budget also marks the first time in decades county officials expect to avoid the use of tax anticipation notes (TANs) to operate the county’s government. This comes as a result of unwavering success by Tax Commissioner Andy Chastain’s office in the collection of approximately $1.4 million in delinquent taxes for 2018.
District One Commissioner Lorenzo Wilder stressed the capacity of this accomplishment by claiming, “The fact that we don’t anticipate using the TANs this year, that saves the taxpayers in the county over $50,000 per year in interest that we do not have to worry about paying.”
Standard textile presents ida with $12 million proposal, Standard commits 30 more jobs
The Thomaston-Upson Industrial Development Authority approved a bond resolution during last week’s regularly scheduled meeting for the issuance of a $12 million bond to Standard Textile.
According to IDA Attorney Joel Bentley, “The IDA was approached last month by Standard Textile, they love to come in at the end of the year and they want to invest approximately $12 million in their personal property infrastructure in the Thomaston-Upson County plants.”
The Cincinnati-based manufacturer has committed to the creation of 30 jobs over a three-year period at the Thomaston facility if the proposed bond is completed.
Standard maintains a proven track record of job creation following bond issuance in Thomaston after exceeding projections for job creation in each bond issued since 2013.
The firm was responsible for the creation of over 29 jobs through a $7 million bond issuance in 2013, and exceeded another projection by creating over 56 jobs following a $7 million issuance in 2016.
Bentley claimed, “They have got some hires that they have made off of stuff that they just purchased that are not covered under any of their bond issues. They have agreed to keep and maintain that employment for the full eight-year period. They increase jobs for next year by seven jobs and increase jobs the next year by five.”
The specifics of the IDA’s agreement with Standard Textile will require their compliance with their employment agreement in order to receive property tax abatement.
Bentley noted, “We do not give them money up front. They have to go get it every year that they have that capital asset on the books and that they have those people employed. If they do, then they get full credit. If they do not, they pay more tax.”
NO LOCAL FUNDS AT RISK WITH IDA BOND UNDER COURT ORDER
By Matt Sharpe
A revenue bond inked between the Thomaston Upson IDA and Gordon Jensen Healthcare Association, Inc. in 2013 is one of 13 deals under court order by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The order is for nursing home kingpin Christopher Brogdon of Atlanta to pay more than $89 million in interest and principal owed to investors.
No local funds are at risk according to the T-U IDA.
“Bondholders have been paid so far and that the matter is in the courts. Christopher Brogden's involvement was hidden from the Authority, and no local funds are at risk since this was solely a revenue bond. The IDA’s Bond Counsel has kept us apprised to the situation and will continue to do so,” said IDA Executive Director Kyle Fletcher.
According to the SEC, Brogdon deceived investors, co-mingling money that was supposed to be dedicated to specific projects and diverting funds to other business ventures and to family accounts. He is now under a court order to pay investors the interest and principal owed in 13 bond deals and six private placement offerings. The 2013 bond inked with the T-U IDA is one of those bond deals.
SEC officials say Brogden used funds from the deals to fund his lavish lifestyle including homes in Atlanta and St. Simons, and a private plane worth $1.5 million. In addition to his nursing homes and assisted living businesses, he is part owner of the J. Christopher restaurant chain.
The IDA agreed to enter into an agreement with Gordon Jensen Healthcare Association, Inc. for a $9.5 million dollar revenue bond in April of 2013. Financing of the bond was for 30 years at a fixed rate. The earnings from the nursing home would have been used to pay for the bonds. At the execution of the bond it was stated that all of the money would be used for Providence Nursing Home.
According to the IDA, the conduit bond were not backed by the IDA or local government and allowed for the group to seek financing from other sources.
At that time, the group was in the process of purchasing and upgrading the facility in Thomaston. Early estimates were in the range of $8.1 million. The remainder of the funds would be applied to fees and other necessities.
During the meeting in 2013, IDA attorney Joel Bentley said the IDA board was approached by the group’s attorney in regards to the possibility of the IDA providing bond assistance for the purchase and rehabilitation of Providence Nursing Home.
“This is a non-traditional IDA type bond,” said Bentley in 2013. “Typically our bonds are for purchases of additional equipment for an existing facility or for possibly assisting a facility to move here or relocate here for heavy industry.”
He added while the bond was not for heavy industry, it was in the IDA’s charter where it could execute bonds for similar industries including the nursing home and healthcare industry.
In 2013, representatives for the company said the bond would not exceed $9.5 million and it would be used to acquire and rehabilitate Providence Nursing Home located on South Green Street. The acquisition would preserve 90 jobs and create 10-15 jobs in the future, according to representatives. The 501C3 group did not ask for any tax breaks or special benefits and would pay ad-valorem taxes.
DART GRANT TO BENEFIT THOMASTON PARK SYSTEM
The City of Thomaston has been named a recipient of a $5,000 grant from the Dart Foundation. The grant will be used for the purchase of park benches and trash receptacles throughout its park system. The City provides and maintains three parks and feature walking tracks, ponds, fountains, playgrounds, pavilions, and recreational activities. The addition of the benches and receptacles will enhance their current amenities, according to City Hall.
“We are appreciative of the Dart Foundation’s generosity,” City administrative assistant Brandy Johnson. “The benches will give visitors an area to rest while walking, as well as a place to relax and enjoy the beauty of our spaces. We want to maintain that beauty and having additional receptacles will help us keep our parks clean and inviting.”
The City is in the midst of purchasing the eight benches and four receptacles, with delivery and installation planned within the next few weeks.
The Dart Foundation is a private family foundation established by Dart Container Corporation founder William A. Dart and his wife Claire T. Dart. The Foundation supports projects that enhance education, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math, and those that improve the quality of life in specific communities, including Thomaston and the surrounding area.
City and County Meet To