Audit for 2017 presented to Blairsville City Council

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BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. – At their Tuesday, June 5, meeting, the Blairsville City Council heard from Clay Pilgrim, of the accounting firm Rushton & Company, who presented the city’s financial audit for fiscal year 2017.

Pilgrim explained this was the first year that Rushton & Company conducted an audit for the city of Blairsville.

“Things did go well during the auditing process, especially for a first-year audit,” Pilgrim stated. “Sometimes the first year of an audit does not go as smooth as the second, third, fourth and fifth … (I am) very pleased with all your department heads, all your finance staff.”

According to Pilgrim, the audit produced an “unmodified opinion” for fiscal year 2017. Essentially, this means the financial statements of the city “ended in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the (U.S.)”

Pilgrim went on to state the city’s total net position for 2017 was $23,429,812.

“That’s going to be your capital assets – buildings, equipment, land – less the depreciation on those assets, less any debt that’s outstanding that was used to acquire those assets,” Pilgrim explained.

Concerning the city’s general fund, Pilgrim stated revenues decreased in 2017 by 8.8 percent for a total of $152,615.

“A couple of causes there – fines and forfeitures decreased about $29,000 and intergovernmental revenues decreased $139,685 largely due to LMIG (Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant) and timing there on when those are spent,” Pilgrim said.

Expenditures, however, also decreased $214,354.00, approximately 14.7 percent than that of 2016, and the ending unassigned fund balance, or reserves, for the city stood at $2,489,042 as of Dec. 31, 2017, according to Pilgrim.

Regarding the reserves balance, Pilgrim described this as “extremely healthy.”

Highlighting the statement on economic condition and growth for the city, the audit stated, “The city will continue to face challenges as a result of past slow economic growth, but (Rushton & Company is) encouraged at the very positive direction of the current economy along with strong fiscal city policies … (the) average unemployment rate is the lowest in many years and continues to be among the lowest in our region … (Rushton & Company remains) cautiously optimistic that the growth in revenues and businesses in the city of Blairsville will continue.”

Following Pilgrim’s presentation, Councilwoman Mary Ruth Cook commended City Clerk Kaye McCann and Acccounting Clerk Joan Manheim for their assistance to the auditors. To this, Manheim also thanked all of the city department heads for their participation in the audit.

“I’m very appreciative of the trust you put in us, our firm, to do your audit,” Pilgrim stated.

“Well, we appreciate you and your team, Clay,” Mayor Jim Conley told Pilgrim.

The council also approved a reimbursement amount to Union County for an accounting error going back to 2009. Since that time, Manheim explained, a utility bill from Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation (BRMEMC) for a sewer lift station at the airport has continued to be sent to the county. Manheim explained the error was discovered after BRMEMC refused to provide the city information about the meter at the lift station, since the meter number was not registered to the city.

Upon investigation, BRMEMC determined the meter was erroneously registered to the county’s Recreation Department.

Manheim further explained the city has made a request to BRMEMC to update all of the city’s meter numbers.

In addition, Mayor Conley said the total amount the county has paid to BRMEMC since the error originated has amounted to $10,784.20.

“Lamar (Paris, sole commissioner of Union County), when I met with him, he said, ‘If you all pay us half of it, we’ll be satisfied,’” Mayor Conley explained.

The council unanimously agreed to pay $5,392.10 to Union County as reimbursement.

In department head reports, Darren Harper, of the Downtown Development Authority, reminded the council that this Thursday, June 7, is Shop Late Thursday for the month, during which downtown businesses will stay open later in the evening to allow potential patrons who cannot come downtown during the day a chance to visit and shop at downtown businesses. Harper also gave a report on a forthcoming property off of Pat Haralson Drive. Harper said the three-story building would consist of two floors, at 4,000 square feet each, of retail space and a third 4,000 square-foot for residential space.

Blairsville Airport Manager John Hamler reported that despite the rainy weather seen across the region in the past few weeks, business has continued to rise at the airport. Hamler also stated over 50 people or entities are currently on the waiting list for hangar space at the airport. “I think with the new fuel system, the new Jet A tank, additional people coming in, I think we are going to see those sales come up,” Hamler stated. “I can envision us hitting $1 million a year there in sales in the next two to three years.”

Police Chief Johnny Carroll reminded the council and those present the new hands-free driving law for the state of Georgia will go into effect on July 1. This law prohibits drivers from holding their cell phones in their hands while driving. Drivers will now be required to use a hands-free device or system to access their phones.

In other business, the council approved the purchase of a Kubota zero-turn mower from Nelson Tractor in the amount of $12,157.28 for the Blairsville Airport. Funds from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) will be used to finance the purchase.

The council approved a new work detail agreement for fiscal year 2018-19 with the Georgia Department of Corrections in the amount of $39,500 for the year.

Councilwoman Cook mentioned the need for a crosswalk and/or pedestrian crossing signage on Pat Haralson Drive near the Downtown Develoment Authority property and Millie’s Corner Plaza. The council agreed that signage would be the best and most expedient option, and Mayor Conley told Cook pedestrian crossing signs could be installed as early next week.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Downtown parking a hot topic at city council meeting

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BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. – At the Tuesday, May 1, Blairsville City Council meeting, Michael Collins, owner of Michaelee’s Italian Life Caffe, spoke to council members during public commentary about the parking situation in downtown Blairsville.

Collins described parking in the downtown area as a problem that is “getting worse.” The restaurant owner explained he was told in 2014 that the city was would be working to improve parking but stated as of yet, he has seen no significant results.

When Collins asked the council about the gravel parking located behind his restaurant and adjacent to City Hall as well as the grassy area situated between the gravel lot and the exit/entrance for the state Route 515 and Pat Haralson Memorial Drive interchange, Mayor Jim Conley informed Collins his customers and employees were welcome to park and told of the city’s plans to develop the area in the future.

“Parking is a nightmare for every town,” Conley added.

Councilman Tony Dyer, who expressed the need to develop the lot at the March city council meeting, again stressed the need for an immediate resolution by utilizing the property and space.

After this, the meeting briefly resembled an impromptu town hall forum, as several downtown business and property owners present at the meeting offered their insight and thoughts on the situation.

Bill McGlamery, owner of The Wine Shoppe, expressed concerns over liability and the safety of the gravel lot, also located behind his business. McGlamery pointed out the lack of adequate lighting and stated the gravel surface posed safety issues for elderly downtown patrons.

Regina Garrett, owner of Cut Loose Beauty Salon, suggested that although use of the gravel lot would open up more parking for downtown, patrons, she felt, would be unwilling to walk the distance needed to reach certain businesses in the downtown area.

Another downtown property owner, Millie Arrowood, told of overflow parking problems with people parking in certain businesses’ parking lots but frequenting other establishments downtown. Colleen Urbaniuk, owner of Season’s Inn, agreed with this sentiment, saying this certain problem forces business owners to “be the bad guy” by disallowing people to park in the lots at which they are not patronizing.

After further discussion, Mayor Conley addressed Darren Harper, supervisor of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), and told Harper the DDA would need to develop a grading plan for the gravel lot before the council could move forward with plans to develop the lot.

In other business, Chip McGaughey, of EMI, told the council of the need to install a grit removal system at the city’s wastewater treatment facility. McGaughey stated the city could be eligible for a Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) grant to assist with the purchase of the removal system.

Overall, McGaughey said, the total cost estimate for the system would be approximately $800,000 and the GEFA grant could offer as much as $200,000 in principal forgiveness. The remaining $600,000 could be financed through a loan, McGaughey explained, and stated the city would have to decide on either a 10-, 20- or 30-year term for the loan. According to McGaughey, the deadline for the GEFA grant is June 1.

When Dyer asked if the grit removal system would be money well spent for the city, McGaughey stated the system would prevent breakdown of equipment caused by grit build-up and added that no chemicals would be involved with the removal process.

The council voted unanimously for McGaughey to proceed with the application process for the GEFA grant.

In department reports, DDA Supervisor Harper told of the success of the Explore Blairsville Georgia mobile app. Harper reported, as of the meeting, 491 active users had signed up for the app. Also, Harper stated the monthly Shop Late Thursday event, in which downtown businesses stay open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month, has been “warmly received” by patrons who are unable to shop downtown earlier in the day.

Blairsville Assistant Police Chief Michael Baxter announced the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC) hotspot devices that were purchased during the March city council meeting have been installed in city police vehicles. The devices provide instant Internet access to the GCIC database and allow officers to access information of the vehicle and the recorded owner. Baxter stated since the devices have been installed, Blairsville officers were able to receive information on two wanted persons during routine traffic stops before approaching the stopped vehicle.

In the Blairsville Airport report, John Damer, airport manager, introduced new maintenance employee Aaron Manheim and the council officially ratified Manheim’s hiring unanimously.

In the council’s consent agenda, the decision to approve an occupational tax certificate for Just Cremation was tabled after Councilman Dyer expressed concerns over environmental health regulations with regard to crematories and potential adverse affects to the values of adjacent properties. The council agreed to table the decision to allow City Attorney David Barrett to research state guidelines regarding crematories.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Conley property annexed, Sheriff Mason recognized at council meeting

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BLAISVILLE, Ga. – Annexation of the Conley property off of Pat Haralson Memorial Drive was approved and Sheriff Mack Mason was recognized during the Blairsville City Council meeting Tuesday, April 3.

Last month, annexation was delayed when Daniel Davenport, owner of a 1.47-acre tract of land within the annexation route, requested access to city utilities before annexation of his property took place.

In this month’s meeting, City Attorney David Barrett explained Davenport had sold his tract of land to the developers of the Conley property clearing the way for annexation. Also falling in line with the annexation is Butternut Creek Golf Course. Mayor Jim Conley explained a 50-foot wide easement of land running through the golf course from the current city limits would connect the Conley property contiguously in the annexation process.

On hand for the meeting was the developer of the property, David Brown. When asked about the urgency of the annexation by Barrett, Brown stated, “We need to be annexed tonight.”

Brown also explained the development on the property is for approximately 70 proposed apartment units that will be marketed to seniors. The council approved the annexation unanimously.

The council also approved the purchase of a 4×2 Gator utility vehicle from Nelson Tractor in the amount of $5,525. The vehicle, according to Conley, will be used primarily by the Street and Maintenance department to carry gardening supplies and equipment. Funding for the purchase will come from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds.

Jody Cook, wastewater supervisor, told the council it has been determined a faulty tank valve at the Aviagen Hatchery located near the Colwell Detention Center was the main contributing factor leading to increased levels of chemical oxygen demand (COD) at the wastewater treatment plant. In February, Cook first reported pollutants running from the Aviagen facility into the sewer system were causing increased COD levels at the plant. Cook stated Aviagen was working to resolve the issue.

At the end of the meeting, Mayor Conley took time to recognize Union County Sheriff Mack Mason for his department’s continued efforts as well as cooperation and assistance with the Blairsville City Police Department.

“I personally would just like to say I appreciate the cooperation that the police department and the sheriff’s office has,” Conley told Mason. “As you very well know, we’ve never had that in the past.”

Mason responded by describing the level of cooperation between the two agencies as a “unique deal … one that I don’t know of that exists anywhere in the state of Georgia.”

Mason continued to say the state, in recent years, has “regressed” both in the number of Georgia State Patrol troopers and in the number of Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) agents, leaving more of a burden to the local law enforcement agencies.

“I’m not knocking the troopers,” Mason explained. “I’m knocking the legislators because they’ve let us get in this shape … It’s an undisputed fact that 95 percent of arrests in the state of Georgia are made by the city and county officers.”

Speaking of the working coordination between the Union County Sheriff’s Office and the Blairsville Police Department, in which several officers work full-time for one agency and part-time for the other, Mason said, “I appreciate the relationship that I’ve had with you all.”

Following this, Conley proposed a $1 per hour raise for all part-time officers in the Blairsville Police Department. The raise was approved unanimously by the council.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Wastewater issue discussed at Blairsville City Council meeting

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BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. – In his wastewater treatment plant report, Supervisor Jody Cook told the Blairsville City Council at their Tuesday, Feb. 6, meeting that recent testing has found an increased level of chemical pollutants flowing into the city’s wastewater facility.

Cook reported to city officials that it was determined that the chemicals were coming from the Aviagen Hatchery, a poultry hatchery facility located near Colwell Detention Center, after increases in the chemical oxygen demand (COD) at the treatment plant were discovered in January.

Mayor Jim Conley explained changes in Aviagen’s clean up process after delivering boxes of chicks to clients have resulted in the increased amount of chemicals coming into the wastewater plant.

“We’ve never had problems out of (the hatchery) before,” Conley said. “Those places are keep very, very sanitary, and I’m sure that the chemicals that they use are not harmful to you or me, but it’s harmful to our (wastewater treatment) plant because we have to operate under certain numbers for the EPD (Environmental Protection Division) in order to stay in compliance with our permit.”

In follow-up interview with Cook on Thursday, he stated unknown chemicals were being outside of the hatchery facility during the hatchery’s clean up process. Cook also said that the hatchery has been contacted about the issue and changes at the hatchery concerning its clean up process were being made, including the installation of a sewer drain. Cook also confirmed Mayor Conley’s comments from the meeting stating that the pollution poses no health risk but puts a strain on the treatment facility.

When Council Member Tony Dyer asked Cook if the city could be assured the water draining from the treatment plant into Butternut Creek was EPD legal, Cook responded by saying, “I’ve called EPD and told them of the issue … I told them that we would be probably closing some of our permit tests, and I assume (EPD is) okay with it. They didn’t send anybody up here to start testing or anything.”

Other department reports featured Darren Harper, supervisor of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), telling of the DDA’s plans to install a lit bulletin board near the downtown square. Harper described the bulletin board as “a place where people could see what events are coming up, a directory of businesses in the downtown area, (and) things of that nature.” Harper stated the cost of the board would be just under $500 and the proposed location would be between King’s Five and Dime and Hole in the Wall.

During Harper’s report, the council unanimously approved a move to replace DDA member Bob Head with former member Robert Rogers and move Head’s membership to an honorary status with the DDA.

In the water treatment plant report, Supervisor Danny Dillard stated increased water demand has resulted in ground water wells not producing as much as in the past, and he added that adjustments would be made at the plant wells to account for the increased demand.

Blairsville Airport Manager John Hamler reported that the newly installed Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) equipment has been operating well and that the hangar extensions have been well-received. Hamler also stated airport staff hopes to have the new Jet A fuel tank installed by April. According to Hamler, he and Mayor Conley had discussed hiring a commercial window cleaning service from Murphy, North Carolina, to clean all the windows – inside and out – of the airport terminal. “The new windows have a film on them,” Hamler explained. “It’s just been real impossible to them clean.”

During Hamler’s report, the council unanimously approved the hiring of Edgar Marshall as airport operator. Marshall, who worked previously at the Western Carolina Regional Airport near Andrews, North Carolina, for five years, will replace current operator Storman Glass, who will be leaving Blairsville Airport at the end of May. “I’m excited about getting started,” Marshall said after the council’s approval.

City Attorney David Barrett gave an update on the proposed annexation of 83 Conley Road in Blairsville. “Where we are on that is there is a gap between the property of the county and the city,” Barrett explained, “that we’re having to figure a way to get that 50-foot wide stretch opened and I’m in the process of trying to negotiate … You cannot annex less than 50 feet in width in the state of Georgia.”

The council also discussed the upcoming merger of Rite-Aid with Walgreen’s. A representative from Walgreen’s explained the recent merger of the stores to the council, and the council approved an alcohol license application for Walgreen’s managing agent Evia Kirkland. In addition to this, the council also approved the occupational tax certificate for Walgreen’s.

A complaint concerning the city’s inability to accept credit or debit card payments from water customers was addressed by the council. It was explained that the Notla Water Authority currently charges a 3 percent fee for credit or debit card transactions. After further discussion, the council approved for preliminary steps to be taken to establish a method to receive card transactions for water payment. “I just think, personally, it’s high time we did that,” Council Member Rhonda Mahan said.

Later in the meeting, the council approved the Rushton and Company accounting firm from Gainesville, Georgia, to perform the city’s 2017 financial audit.

The council also accepted occupational tax certificate and sign permit applications from Cousins’ Cuisine LLC (dba Sammies Sub Shop), Farmers Daughters Etc., Waves for Weight Loss, Inc. (dba Smoothies & Supplements), and  John E. Mahan, Attorney at Law.

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

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