By Debi Holcomb, Fannin Sentinel Staff Writer
Last week there was no county business to discuss, so BOC Chairman Stan Helton cancelled the regularly scheduled BOC meeting. Later he called a special meeting for Monday, Nov. 19 with all three commissioners, staff from Gmass, Board of Assessors and employees of the Assessors office. Tensions ran high several times, voices were raised, and nothing was decided.
“The purpose of our meeting tonight, is several months ago, we received a proposal from Gmass seated here on the front row,” said Helton. “It was an interesting proposal, and what we wanted to do tonight was have an open meeting with the full Board of Assessors, the full Board of Commissioners (BOC) and Gmass to discuss this proposal and see if we can work on this budget–that has been an issue for me, personally,” said Helton. He further stated that all questions and answers would be between them only. No comments or questions from the general public would be permitted.
History as I know it is as follows. In 2013, Fannin County was found to be at fault by the Department of Revenue and the Tax Digest was not accepted. Fannin County was to be fined a large amount of money. The BOC went to court and received permission to fire the Board of Assessors and replace them with a new board. Later, the budget was increased to allow for extra employees to bring Fannin County into compliance. This has been done and we dodged a bullet with the huge fine.
The BOC now feels that the budget should be lowered, and the Assessors say they can’t and keep the county out of trouble.
At Monday’s meeting, Helton showed graphs of other counties and their budgets, stating that larger counties are doing the job for less money. The Assessors questioned if apples are being compared to apples as they have questioned for months. Is insurance and employee benefits included in all budgets? Is mapping included or separated into another department? What about mobile homes and personal property? My question, had I been able to ask, would have been (1) how many of those counties have downsized their departments to allow GMASS to do part of the work, and (2) is the cost of their contract included also?
I want to try to break this all down without all the hoopla and finger pointing if I can. Fannin County has 13 employees in the Assessor’s Office. Helton says surrounding counties have half that. GMASS says they can do all the work that the field appraisers can do for a fraction of the cost. A few office personnel would still be needed to process deeds, lot splits, and other data in house.
The Board of Commissioners does not have the authority to hire or fire employees of the Assessors office, only to approve their budget. If the BOC cuts the BOA budget in half, it would be the responsibility of the BOA to figure out how to cut employees, yet still get the work done to keep the BOC out of trouble with the Revenue Department.
Helton and Post Commissioner Earl Johnson both referred to the recent downsizing of the Road Department from 54 to 34 employees and a savings of a million dollars in the budget. Both said if that department could do it, they are calling on all departments to look at cutting expenses where they can.
I have attended many BOC meetings and even the budget workshops, I can tell you that Helton has not heeded his own words. His CFO is probably the second highest paid employee in the entire county. His attorney makes four times what other counties are paying for legal representation. I applaud his endeavor to save taxpayer dollars, but shouldn’t he start in his own department first?
[Due to early deadline and lack of space, we will continue this article in next week’s Sentinel, with questions, answers, and charts from the meeting.]