Audit for 2017 presented to Blairsville City Council

News

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.

 

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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

News

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.

City council talks annexation, purchases police equipment

News, Police & Government, Politics

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. – Annexation of the Conley property on Pat Haralson Memorial Drive was discussed during the Blairsville City Council meeting Tuesday, March 6.

According to Mayor Jim Conley, a developer interested in the property has requested city annexation of the property before proceeding with a development project. From the city limits to the Conley property, a portion of Butternut Creek Golf Course, which is owned by the county, and a stretch of a 1.47-acre property owned by Daniel Davenport falls in line with the proposed annexation route.

While the county has agreed to an easement of the golf course property, Davenport, who was present at the meeting, requested of the city to bring water and sewer utilities through his property before allowing annexation of his property.

“I’m all about annexation if the city sewer and water would pass through the 1.5 acres, which to me is a legitimate path to take (to the Conley property),” Davenport told the council Tuesday. “If (the city is) going to annex my property, I’ll be paying city taxes, so I’ll, of course, want to be able to hook up to the sewer on my property.”

Davenport was told by City Attorney David Barrett if his property was annexed, he would have the right by law to attain water and sewer utilities from the city. However, Davenport explained that in his previous discussions with Barrett, the city attorney told him the city would not provide the infrastructure needed to connect to city water and sewer lines. Davenport further stated that, to his understanding, the city would be extending water and sewer lines all the way to the Conley property. To this, Mayor Conley replied, “No we’re not either … we’re not bringing the sewer to their property. They’re coming to our manhole.”

After further discussion, Councilman Tony Dyer made a motion to withdraw the annexation proposal followed by a second from Councilwoman Betty Easter. The motion failed 3 to 2, with nay votes coming from Councilmembers Rhonda Mahan, Robert Moore and Mary Ruth Cook.

On Friday, Mayor Conley stated Davenport had discussed the situation in the days following the meeting with the owners of Conley property and a possible agreement was in the works, which would clear the way for the annexation.

The council approved two equipment purchases for the Blairsville Police Department. Sergeant Shawn Dyer informed the council of a recent audit of the department conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) in which the GBI recommended the use of departmental phones for city officers as well as the addition of wi-fi hotspot devices within city patrol vehicles.

Dyer explained the phones would be used by full-time officers for official police business. Currently, officers use their personal cell phones for police business while on duty, and GBI, in the audit, claimed this presents a security risk and the possibility of a personal information breach for the officers.

Concerning the addition of the hotspot devices, Dyer stated the technology upgrade will ensure a safer and more effective environment for officers while conducting routine traffic stops. The hotspot devices will provide instant Internet access to the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC) database and allow officers to access information of the vehicle and the recorded owner before initially approaching the vehicle.

“(The hotspot devices) could probably save somebody’s life,” Dyer explained, “because right now, if we stop a car, we call in the tag number to dispatch, we pull that car over, we go up and we talk to that driver not knowing anything (of the driver). We don’t get that information back until we sit back there in the (patrol) car after we’ve talked to them, got their driver’s license and all that.”

According to Dyer, six cell phones (iPhones) and eight hotspot devices will come from Verizon at a monthly cost of $564.57.

Dyer also told of the need for a large metal cabinet that can be locked to store evidence or guns in the squad room at the police department. The sergeant stated a large lockable cabinet in the squad room would allow all shifts the ability to store evidence if the evidence room of the department cannot be accessed. Dyer said he found a cabinet suitable for such a purpose for around $2,000.

Both expenditures were approved unanimously.

The council gave approval to proceed with RevoPay as an online electronic payment method for payments of all fees, permits and/or taxes to the city. Last month, the council discussed and approved an option for accepting credit or debit cards for water services payments.

Kaye McCann, city clerk, explained to the council the RevoPay system would allow customers to pay all bills to the city in a lump sum by credit or debit card or by electronic check either online or over the phone. Also, city hall would have access to RevoPay, so that any customers making payments in person would also be able to make payments via those options as well.

According to McCann, there is no charge or fee to the city to use this service; however, a percentage-based fee from RevoPay would be passed along to customers using the service. When asked about the percentage of the fee, McCann explained the fee would likely fall between 3 to 5 percent and that the percentage would be determined over time by the amount of customers using the service. McCann further explained customers using RevoPay would know before the transaction is complete exactly how much the fee is.

Jody Cook, wastewater supervisor, delivered an update of a wastewater issue involving the Aviagen Hatchery, a poultry hatchery facility located near Colwell Detention Center. Last month, Cook reported increases in the chemical oxygen demand (COD) at the treatment plant were discovered in January. At that meeting, he said it was determined pollutants stemming from outdoor wash downs of the hatchery’s delivery crates were the cause of the increase of COD. Cook also stated last month the issue does not pose a health risk to anyone, but rather puts a greater strain on the wasterwater treatment facility.

This month, Cook told the council the hatchery had changed its clean-up policies. “It has made a difference, but I think we’re going to have to do a little bit more there because our readings are still high,” Cook said.

Cook stated officials from Aviagen have been cooperating with the city in an effort to correct the issue and told Cook to inform the hatchery if the changes in their cleaning processes did not resolve the issue. To this, Cook told the board he wanted to do a few more tests before going back to Aviagen since recent rains have disallowed the possibility of accurate testing.

In other business, the council approved a change in the type of envelopes used to mail water bills to customers. The new envelopes will feature a clear window panel on the front of the envelope and, as Mayor Conley pointed out, are easier for mail sorting machines to process.

The council entered into a 12-month contract with Jeff Burks, of Total Geek Tek, for regular IT maintenance and upgrades for all city departments. Burks’ hourly rate will be $40 an hour, and he will service city computer systems two days a week for a total of 16 hours a month, according to the parameters of the contract.

Councilman Tony Dyer stressed the need to move forward with a paved public parking lot, public restroom facility and a greenspace on city property located behind city hall. Dyer stated he would like to see the space, when completed, dedicated to longtime state representative and Blairsville native Carlton Colwell.

Dyer also mentioned the idea of honoring Union County Sheriff Mack Mason at the next city council for the sheriff’s office ongoing cooperation with the city police department.

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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