Suing local businesses helps run up fees to the county attorney, says County Manager Joe Pritchard. He didn’t mention that continuing to promote sprawl for example through the county’s thoroughfare plan also runs up fees that property taxes will never meet. Commissioners seemed very concerned about “stakeholders” whom they said were “the development community, the real estate community” and “the construction and homebuilder industries”. Maybe somewhere they mentioned the agricultural and forestry industries, or sales tax payers even if they don’t own real estate; if so I missed it. At least they’re thinking about the Comprehensive Plan and the general direction of the county in a public forum. And the County Planner did talk about quality of life. Plus it seems business prospects bringing that up got the attention of the County Manager. They said they have a responsiblity to set the direction of the county. How about instead of continuing to drive sprawl outwards, which is a fiscally (and environmentally) irresponsible path, turn to directing development to be more dense in already-developed areas? They continue this morning at 8:30 AM, and Gretchen is there again with the LAKE video camera.
Here’s the agenda followed by links to each LAKE video with a few notes. See also two previous pictures.
We are looking forward to the improved communication that was touted in the VDT headline. Jason Stewart, VDT, 4 February 2016, Slaughter wants to strengthen communication,
Lowndes County Commission Chairman Bill Slaughter wants a concerted effort to strengthen communication between county and city governments.
Slaughter discussed the ill effects of what he called “fragmented conversations” at the Lowndes County Board of Commissioners annual planning session Thursday.
Slaughter wants residents “to be able to go to a single source to find out everything going on in the community,” he said.
Slaughter commended commissioners for diligence in communicating openly with county residents.
“I wholeheartedly believe every one of you has a desire to communicate with the citizens as much as you possibly can,” the chairman said.
Slaughter said he is looking for ways to reach more residents more clearly.
How about start by putting your own Commission’s board packets online? And those of the Planning Commission? And stop slapping things on the agenda the same day as a vote when you’ve been negotiating for some time? And those emergency change orders: rein them in! And….
Audit Report — Henderson & Godbee, LLC
Video. Year before last they had a deficit of $1 million and had to dip into their 90-day fund to borrow. Last year into this year, even though they’re behind on collecting the taxes, they have surplus. That changed since they raised the millage in July 2014. So raising taxes let them balance the budget. And remember, Lowndes millage is still low compared to other counties.
Finance — Stephanie Black
Video. Minutes 10-15: various details including the Leila Ellis house, for which in October 2013 we all discovered they had no contracts for tenants. Also “County attorney was down last year, inline with where it was in 2010”. County Manager Joe Pritchard claimed the attorney cost was mostly about SPLOST negotiations, and “every time we have to get into negotiations with the cities and the counties. And yes, it depends on the amount of lawsuits we have.” He added that it also includes work for the sheriff’s office, the board of tax assessors, the library, etc. Hm, so stop suing local businesses and don’t spend as much on attorney fees?
Minutes 25-28: They want to move the coroner out of Remerton City Hall into the Webster Street house they remodeled. I wonder if the Coroner will respond to that like he did a couple of years ago? Apparently he doesn’t want to move now, because he’s not got much longer in his career.
Minute 38, there are some services provided only to the unincorporated parts of the county. What are they? Just special tax lighting districts? Something else? “You see all the different taxes that go into that, $2.9 million, a little ahead of last year,” said Finance Director Stephanie Black. I think she mentioned alcohol and hotel taxes. Remember, the County Clerk told us trash collection couldn’t be paid for out of taxes levied just on the unincorporated areas, even though Georgia law explicitly says it can, including it can come from property taxes or user fees:
“36-70-24 (3)(B) Such funding shall be derived from special service districts created by the county in which property taxes, insurance premium taxes, assessments, or user fees are levied or imposed or through such other mechanism agreed upon by the affected parties which with the intent of subparagraph (A) of this paragraph;”
Speclal Purpose Local Option Sales Tax — Harrison Tillman
Video. Minute 14, Chairman Bill Slaughter said local part of TSPLOST is only to be spent on state roads. Note that’s the state “regional” T-SPLOST tax that Lowndes County voters resoundingly rejected in August 2012, not SPLOST. The Chairman noted that when the state offers revenue usually the state is looking to take away revenue somewhere else for a loss of net revenue. Hm, maybe we need some changes in the statehouse.
Minute : Chairman Bill Slaughter read the county’s mission statement which he said former Chairman Rod Casey (two back) wrote. He said it meant they had to be careful to always have enough revenue for services. Hm, maybe they shouldn’t sue local businesses, then. This is the mission statement, from the front of the Fiscal Year 2015 Operating Budget:
To provide an efficient, effective and responsive local government to all citizens of Lowndes County while maintaining the financial strength to meet any contingency
Comprehensive: Plan — Jason Davenport
Video. A Comprehensive Plan is a great idea! Now if the Tax Assessors would pay attention to it, instead of explicitly saying they didn’t and won’t. How about the County Commission’s own staff pay attention to it, instead of pushing county road classifications upwards in the thoroughfare plan that promotes paving and development?
Minute 15: County Manager Joe Pritchard said Commissioners had responsibility not only for their district, but for the county as a whole.Minute 16: Commissioner Scottie Orenstein noted there had been a lot of growth in the north side of his district. He didn’t note that the county through the thoroughfare plan and in other ways has been actively promoting growth north of Valdosta, as also did the tax assessors in their recent rural revaluation. Orenstein asked “We need to make sure that the stakeholders who are involved in this, being the development community, the real estate community, how insure that we get those people there to speak, and to be part of this.” The Chairman piled on about the construction and homebuilder industries being stakeholders who should be involved.
“I think it’s going to be extremely important for us as Commissioners to go into these different areas and let the business people, and developers, and you know, property owners of all kinds, and let them know this is something you should pay attention to, and you need to be a part of it, and go there and contribute…. We’re going to set the direction that we want the county as a whole to be at.”
How about the taxpayers who pay for county services, including people who don’t own property but who still pay sales taxes? How about the farmers and tree growers who struggle to keep some part of the county in agriculture and forestry? How about the wetlands, creeks, rivers, and aquifer? The County Manager did mention:
“Those stakeholders that are every citizen that you represent, whether it’s those citizens who are impacted by, as we met yesterday, the transit system, transportation system, roads coming through particular areas, where economic development takes place, as far as parks that are designated areas, where you will look at providing water and sewer services in unincoprated area; all of those are an added layer to this big picture.”
Added as in added to business and developers who are the layer the county government cares about? Who isn’t for business, but agriculture and forestry are industries, too. and what’s the point of promoting business
In response to a question from Commissioner Demarcus Marshall, County Planner Jason Davenport did recommend:
“…trying to make sure that not only are we reflective of a business-friendly climate but also of a quality community climate. I think that there’s a good balance there between those two, to make sure we’re trying to accomodate not only economic development but also for the quality of life in the community.”
Davenport said “I think we have been”. Maybe so, but with some pretty glaring exceptions; see above about tax assessors and thoroughfare plan.
At 27m45s, County Manager mentioned one thing that gets their attention:
“Jason’s comment about quality of life, recreation, what are we doing to overall improve our community. The Chairman and I were meeting a couple of weeks ago with a potential prospect. It was what about the quality of life you have here, from having an art center, a university, recreation, agriculture, all those aspects that make up who you are, play an important part in that discussion, including the medical community and retail. So you can’t… overlook one aspect. Perhaps we are repeating ourselves, but we cannot look for someones else to form this concept and to bring it to the community…. So to understand it you have to participate.
Commissioner Joyce Evans remarked that the Comprehensive Plan “affects everything”.
Minute 42, Commissioner Demarcus Marshall asked how to turn development towards Naylor. (This was also brought up by a Naylor resident in the Farm Bureau meeting about the recent rural revaluation by the Tax Assessors.) County Planner Jason Davenport said water and sewer services could do that. “And roads,” he added. Indeed. So the county is currently driving development straight north. Davenport also mentioned schools. So the new Pine Grove schools on River Road also help drive development north. Davenport didn’t mention that a bus system could have development effects, as in a bus to Naylor could leapfrog intervening land and promote dense development around Naylor.
The County Manager bemoaned that farmers between Valdosta and Naylor aren’t interested in selling to developers. Davenport said the criterion appeared to be how much the owners wanted for their property. Which is how the Tax Assessor rural revaluation will drive development in the areas it made highest valuation, such as straight north from Valdosta to the county line. If the voters of the county approve revoking election of Lowndes County’s Tax Assessors (the only ones in the state to be elected), the county government will be even more responsible for valuations, because the County Commissioners will appoint the Tax Assessors.
If the county government wants to set a direction, as the County Manager said they should, how about stop driving sprawl, which, as UGA Prof. Dorfman explained to the county in a report it paid for in 2007, is a sure path to fiscal ruin, or at least tax increases, and instead do what Dr. Dorfman recommended, and drive denser development in the already-developed areas?
- Break for Lunch
Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan — Ashley Tye
Video. He mentioned sinkholes and wetlands. Also natural hazards from diseases. Asked about the LiDAR Valdosta organized and the county helped pay for mapping elevations in detail for the whole county, he said it was very useful for telling what’s near the Withlacoochee River. He noted the recent change in USGS gauge readings to be from sea level matches elevations homeowners can see on topo and flood maps, and in the LiDAR, so yes, the LiDAR helps.
Here’s a video playlist:
Videos: Planning Meeting, Lowndes County Commission
Planning Meeting, Lowndes County Commission (LCC),
Video by Gretchen Quarterman for Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange (LAKE),
Quail Branch Lodge, 7601 Zeigler Road, Lake Park, GA, 4 February 2016.
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