Pickens Seniors For CHange
The whole of this website is dedicated to keeping the citizens of Pickens County Georgia educated as to what is going on in their county government. Pickens County needs an administration they can count on. And not be continually lied to and pushed aside if the taxpayers ask questions the County doesn't want to answer. It's way past time to replace the present administration with some new blood. The government is "for the people and by the people." Not by a few Good ol Boys who control everything, and do business "the way we've always done it."
The following is a reprint from the Pickens County Progress newspaper, dated October 6, 2016. And it hits the nail on the head. Our County representatives care nothing about the wishes of the people they are supposed to represent. Our elected and appointed officials represent "themselves," NOT the residents of Pickens County.
OUR PUBLIC RULERS
THE COMMISSIONERS WHO WOULD BE KINGS
To be clear on the county government's 10 percent property tax increase this year, it was taken by the commissioners against strong public sentiment.
Politicians talk about being public servants, carrying out the will of their constituents. Our whole democracy is based on the idea that the elected are there to represent the public. The public wanted taxes to be held steady or cut; the politicians wanted a tax increase. The truth of what happened is crystal clear - we'll all pay more.
Two of the three members of the board of commissioners (chairman Rob Jones and Commissioners Jerry Barnes) plowed ahead with a tax hike to fund increases in employee health insurance plans, increases in employee salaries and improvements to the jail. (The third Commissioners on the board, Becky Denney, abstained, citing more tightening that could have been done.
These are not the actions of public servants, these are the action of public rulers - commissioners and other elected officials who would be kings and take what they can in taxes, deaf to the cries from the public. The fact that the county rolled it back from a proposed 14 percent increase to a 10 percent increase at the last moment show they knew what their constituents wanted, but lacked the political fortitude to make cuts.
Our local politicians always trot out the cliched claim that they are financial conservatives at some point in their campaigns, but they have all, without exception, misrepresented their true philosophy on spending.
Did any of the elected leaders in the public hearings voice dissent against the plan for more taxing and more spending? NO. The fact is, from the courthouse to the administration building, all of our elected leaders either supported the increase or dared not stand against the other officials to oppose it.
It will be interesting to see how many of these incumbents will still claim to be financial conservatives when elections roll around in four years.
In 2016, they all qualify as tax and spend liberals. Regardless of how they try to spin it, all had their hands out for more taxes and more spending and by ten percent - no slight increase this year.
Our rulers make it appear that they had no choice but to go up on taxes as though it was out of their control. HOGWASH! Not one person in office detailed any attempts to cut anything. Why would they? The are going to take what they want in the end anyway.
As we have editorialized before in this space, our elected officials are completely out-of-touch with the realities of running a business. In the real world there are things you want, but you do without if you can't afford them. This simple premise is utterly lost on those in power in Pickens County.
The County is preparing to spend a possible $270,000 more for the county employee health insurance, which already costs the taxpayers $2.7 million. As one speaker at the public hearings pointed out, the County funds a better plan than most people in the County can afford. Similarly, the County budgeted $400.000 more for employee raises. And as we have written before, the most dedicated wonderful employee in the world doesn't normally get a raise if his employer doesn't turn a profit.
In the real world you stay within your means; in the government world you raise taxes.
We would further point out to our County officials who claim they have no choice but to up our taxes, that the city of Jasper (which admittedly has more commercial base) has figured out ways to go years without any noticeable tax increase. Good job Jasper.
They raise spending only when they see increases in the tax digest. In other words, when there is growth, they grow. When the digest is flat, so are the taxes.
Now that is a model of county government finances we'd support. Taxes go up or down, depending on growth in the county, not on the whims of three rulers and their elected cronies.
The following is a reprint of an article from the Pickens County Progress. It's just another example of the ineptitude, and ignorance of our elected (and appointed) officials.
COUNTY SHOULD KNOW PROPERTY ZONINGS
Following a September 10th Progress story that announced Dollar General is considering a new store at the corner of Grandview and Cove Roads, a flood of comments were posted to our Facebook page and website, mostly in opposition to the potential project.
Unfortunately, because the County may not have an up-to-date zoning classification for the parcel on their books, these concerned residents don't know if they will have a say in a store being built there or not.
Right now this 6.22 acre particular tract is owned by the Northside Church of Christ in Jasper. A representative of the church told the Progress the property is under contract with the developer, and that a portion is zoned rural residential and a portion is zoned for business and commercial usage.
If the County records are correct and the property is zoned rural residential, adjacent property owners will need to be notified of the requested change (if it is ultimately requested); signage must be posted on the property and a public hearing must be held before the planning commission, which will then make a recommendation to the board of commissioners. After this, the board of commissioners will make the final decision on whether it stays residential or is switched to a highway business zoning.
If the property owner is correct and a portion of the parcel is zoned for business, the store construction could proceed without delay.
After talking with the church, we followed up with the County by checking information on the QPublic website for Pickens (www.qpublic.net/ga/pickens), and by contacting the planning and development office and the tax assessor's office.
All of their information reflects only a rural residential zoning, but when asked about the possibility of two zonings on one property, the County's public information officer said the current property owner could have "other documentation that indicates a highway business zoning."
What? That's right! He said it was possible the County records weren't up-to-date, and that the conceptual drawings for the Dollar
General that have been shown to County officials were "likely based on documentation or information that reflected a portion of the property has a highway business zoning."
He then pointed to 2005 when the County first adopted the Land Use Ordinance (prior to this, property here did not have any zoning). There was a 90-day window before the adoption of the ordinance in which property owners could pick and choose their zoning and apparently some of these zoning classifications didn't make it into the County's records. This is blatantly unacceptable that 10 years after zoning was adopted there are incomplete records.
This Dollar General case shows perfectly the pitfalls of sloppy record keeping by the County. On the one hand, you have adjacent property owners who may be shocked to learn that a parcel they had long thought was safely residential is actually open for commercial growth. On the other hand, you may have Dollar General planners and a church finding a huge kink thrown into their property deal if they discover a piece they had thought was commercial really wasn't.
Either way, someone loses because of government ineptitude.
The County has routinely hedged their bets on accuracy by cautioning that the QPublic website maintained in the tax office may not have the correct zoning on the parcels, since zoning is the province of planning and development.
That is textbook example of bureaucracy--the buck doesn't stop anywhere with zoning.
It is not too much to ask that an accurate and public index of property zonings for the County be created and one that will stand up to challenges.
Does this mean more taxes for the already over-burdened homeowners of Pickens County? Why doesn't the County leaders transfer the loss in revenue from other parts of the budget allocation, like the Contingency Fund? Their resolution to the decreased revenue is to burden the homeowners with more and higher taxes. The assessed values of land owned by the Commissioners doesn't increase, so they do not pay as much taxes as the rest of the homeowners. (See the Tax Assessors website on the Home page)
The following article is reprinted from the Pickens County Progress newspaper. August 2015
COUNTY TO GO WITH "ROLLBACK" TAX RATE
County commissioners have approved advertisement of the 2015 millage rate at 7.222 mils, or .002 mils above the 2014 rate.
Commissioners are expected to adopt this rate at their September meeting after the five-year digest and millage history is advertised for two weeks. The state allows governments and municipalities to adopt a "rollback" millage rate, which generates close to the same amount of property tax collected the previous year, without holding a public hearing.
Pickens County Chief Financial Officer, Faye Harvey, said with the 2015 tax digest down by a net $7.2 million, the county should collect approximately $53,000 less tax revenue than was collected in 2014.
Jones expressed frustration over changes to the way motor vehicle tax is collected in the state, which reduced taxable motor vehicles by $17 million over 2014 figures.
"Is the state going to make whole on that?" Jones asked. "Yeah, right."
Last year, the County raised the millage rate 6.5 percent from 6.687 to 7.22 mils. The tax hike was approved by the commissioners to address what Harvey called the County's "cash flow problem." Additional revenue from the increased from the increased millage was used to reduce the county's reliance on short-term loans called Tax Anticipation Notes (TANs). The County has used TANs since 2005 to cover day-to-day operating costs until property taxes are collected at the end of the year.
Harvey told commissioners she already has about one-third of County department's 2016 budgets in, and, "according to the indication of those budgets this (millage rate) is going to be sufficient for next year," she said.
In response to a question from chair Rob Jones, Harvey said the 2016 budgets she has received show no major increases in operating expenses.
At the same meeting, commissioners approved a $42,000 amendment for the animal control department's 2015 budget, which, Jones said, "we knew it would run over."
Jones pointed to the shift of animal shelter management from the sheriff's office to the County, which does not use free inmate labor to run the shelter. The County hires employees to fill the positions once handled by those inmates.
With the increase in animal control expenditures, as well as an increase in animal control revenues of just over $12,000, the County's contingency fund will decrease by $29,739. This reduction will bring the contingency fund to approximately $618,000.
The CFO has asked that all department heads have their 2016 budgets completed by September 4.
Commissioners are expected to adopt the millage rate at their September 17 meeting.
The following article, from The Pickens County Progress (dated June 2015), is very disturbing. What is going on in the County's planning and development department? Why is this the third director to QUIT in under a year? Clearly, it needs investigating.
COUNTY OUT THIRD PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR IN UNDER A YEAR
While he would not release details at this time, Pickens County Commissioner Rob Jones confirmed Monday, July 6, that Alberto Torres is no longer employed by the county as planning and development director.
Torres was hired in December of 2014 to replace Joey Law, who served as director from 2008 to September 2014. Pickens public information officer Norman Pope-the County's planning and development director from 1999 through 2008 - served as interim director for the months prior to Torres being hired.
Jones would not comment on specifics about Torres' departure, but said "things will finalized Thursday, July 9th."
"That is a hard position to fill," he said. "It can be a controversial department and you need a certain type of individual to fill the role. They have to know about planning and development or you'll get in there and won't be able to get off the ground."
When Torres was hired for the director position last December, he was originally being interviewed for an IT position, buty based on his education background - which includes degrees in science, engineering, and management and organizational behavior - the commission hired him to fill the planning and development position and help with the County IT needs for their GIS mapping system.
Instead of hiring a full-time IT position, the County continued using ETC for tech support on an as-needed basis. Pickens County Planning Commission Chair Bill Cagle said the change in leadership will not impact their work as a board. He noted that having Pope's experience to fall back on is helpful with changeovers.
"When Joey left, he had been there eight years," Cagle said, "and we hated to see him go, but Norman was able to step in and provide that transition, which he will do again."
Jones said the County will post a job description for the director position on the County website as well as on the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia website.
He expects the planning and development office to run smoothly until a new director can be found.
END OF ARTICLE
Reprinted with permission of The Pickens County Progress
DEFICIENCIES EXPECTED IN AUDIT OF COUNTY CLERK'S OFFICE
According to Pickens County CFO Faye Harvey, it is likely the clerk of court's office will again have findings in the county's annual audit report.
An audit of the county's 2013 books, released last July, found "significant deficiencies" in the clerk's office. It cited lack of proper internal controls, improperly voided transactions and cash-handling deficiencies.
During budget meetings last October, Harvey asked Pickens County Clerk of Court Gail Brown if she had addressed any of the findings, which she had not at the time.
Beyond issues at the clerk's office Harvey said it is likely there will again be findings with the solid waste department. The department was cited in last year's audit for poor receipting and handling logging of money collected at the recycling center.
The EMS department was also cited in the FY 2013 audit for the large number of overdue and uncollected bills on the books, bu Harvey said due to a new collections policy, this finding should no appear on the FY 2014 report.
A draft of the audit will be completed by June 5, with the final audit to be presented at the July meeting.
TRUTH BE TOLD: WHAT TAX INCREASE?
Much has been said in past weeks, regarding this group's fight to obtain the school tax exemption for senior homeowners.
The opposition's overused diatribe is that we seniors should pay "our fair share." We've been paying "our fair share" for fifty, sixty, or more years.
What about local residents who have four or more kids in school who pay no property tax? Are they paying "their fair share?" What about the illegal aliens who get everything for free? They have never paid "their fair share."
According to public tax records, there is more than 2.3 million dollars owed the County in back taxes. Are those individuals, businessmen, and corporations
paying "their fair share?" Many of these individuals and businesses owe property taxes going back six or more years. And until February 23, one school board member had not paid "their fair share."
Why is this allowed?
There are some businesses in this County who owe not only thousands of dollars in back property taxes, but also thousands of dollars in unpaid sales tax, of which the County would receive a percentage. Yet another source of revenue to remain outstanding. No wonder our elected officials refuse to grant exemptions to seniors.
It seems those opponents who yell the loudest are the ones who have the most to lose. (or hide) To even offer the exemption would mean they might actually have to PAY those back taxes.
There are great variances in the assessment of properties in this County, too. One one side of the street, property is assessed at $5K per acre, while the other side of the street is assessed at $15K per acre.
There is also considerable disparity in the salaries of "certain" County employees.
There is an old saying, "People who live in glass houses, shouldn't throw stones." The opposition appear to live in glass houses.
The (actual ) taxpayers in this County need to WAKE UP? You have been lied to, and deftly lured into complacency and compliancy. Don't you think it's time you did something about it?
Are the uncollected back taxes the reason the commissioners increased the property tax millage rate on the ones who DO pay "their fair share?" Is it the reason our elected officials refuse to grant exemption to seniors? Is it why the County commissioners refuse to let an outside audit of the Count's finances, as directed by the Grand Jury?
The opposition's same old broken record continues its scratchy sing-song: If the seniors are exempt from paying school taxes, the education system will suffer. Wrong! Alternative measures are set in place to provide for the lost revenue. The uncollected 2.3 million would more than fill the gap.
When seniors were granted exemption in Gilmer County, elected officials reported no discernible difference in the quality of education. The measure was voted on and passed in 2008...at a time when the economy was at its worst. And Pickens County has a LARGER population than Gilmer County. Gilmer County and its education system prospers without burdening the elderly with unnecessary taxation, and so can Pickens County.
Recently, the County reported that it was one million dollars in the black, due in part to the millage rate increase. With the uncollected 2.3 million in back taxes, the one million obtained from the augmented millage rate, that makes a total of 3.3 million dollars to help fill the education coffers.
Property owners should not be the only ones to bear the burden of responsibility for the welfare of the education system. Our elected officials need to seek additional sources of revenue, along with collecting what is owed the County. How about bonds, or a local option sales tax, one in which EVERYONE who shopped in the County would help pay for education.
Furthermore, our elected officials need to step up to the plate and submit a ratified exemption plan to Rick Jasperse, so that he can present it to the Georgia Congress for approval, and get it on the ballot for the next election. The Pickens County website could then proudly advertise the fact that seniors are exempt, instead of the unadvertised shameful truth it actually is.
Pickens County offers natural beauty and breathtaking views, but when seniors are burdened with elevated taxes they struggle to pay, those picturesque views no longer delight the aesthetic senses.
Pickens Count is not "senior friendly." Business owners and the senior population are passing the word along not to move here. If you think that's not happening, then you are unaware of what's going on. Or, maybe you are, and are just ignoring it all, hoping, this too, shall pass.
If business in Pickens County suffers, don't blame us. Blame the Pickens County elected officials. They set the standards. We are merely publicizing them.
EVERYTHING about a house should be disclosed to a prospective home buyer: Termite infestation, a structural defect, broken or leaky pipes...AND the fact that senior homeowners DO NOT receive discounts (unless impoverished) and/or exemptions on their property tax.
Fasten your seat belts, everybody. It's going to be a bumpy ride.
PICKENS SENIORS FOR CHANGE