Tag Archives: finance

Videos: Day 1, Planning, Lowndes County Commission @ LCC 2018-02-19

The 2018 Lowndes County Commission Retreat was just about the exact opposite of a commission meeting, except that same group of people are present (almost). There was discussion, disagreement, laughing, sighing, interrupting, listening, inside jokes, outside jokes, and general exchange of views. Those things don’t happen in a commission meeting. This year’s retreat was particularly different because there was no time frame attached to any agenda item and they didn’t discuss topics in exact order, and some topics got covered repeatedly. Commissioner Evans said to me during a break that the previous format of having departments just give a report can “get boring” and she had suggested that they have a different format with more discussion about communications.

The agenda was available on-line but was hard to find and the link I followed to find it is gone now. I did manage to download it before it went away. Find it here: 2018 LCC Annual Planning Meeting Agenda (plus searchable text). There were paper copies available at the meeting after the first break.

I sometimes think that the commissioners may be getting used to me but then, no, don’t be silly.

At the lunch hour, the Commissioners stepped outside to take a group picture and as County Clerk Page Dukes suggested that they get closer and not have so much “space” between them, Commissioners Orenstein and Griner (I live in their districts) huddled together.

Commissioners Gather Group Photo Close Group Photo
  Commissioners Orenstein and Griner

Below are links to each LAKE video, with a few notes followed by a LAKE video playlist. Continue reading

Videos: Planning Meeting, Lowndes County Commission @ LCC 2016-02-04

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, Continue reading

Who’s inaccurate: VDT, Valdosta, GEFA, Chamber, County?

Both Chamber of Commerce Chair Myrna Ballard and Lowndes County Manager Joe Pritchard say the VDT is inaccurate. The VDT took offense at Ballard’s assertion. Which do you believe? I believe I’d like to see the evidence, not just the VDT’s assertions. And this junior high school cat fight the VDT insists on is not helping fix the real problem with water and wastewater in Valdosta and Lowndes County: the widespread and longterm damage to our watersheds that turned a normal rain in 2009 into a 700 year flood, and caused another flooding of the Withlacoochee Wasterwater Treatment Plant this year. I’m all for investigative reporting, but I have not yet once seen the VDT investigate the real underlying issues of longtime clearcutting and building of roads subdivisions, and parking lots without adequate consideration of water flows.

The VDT front page today has yet another story attacking the City of Valdosta, Loan info from GEFA contradicts City: $11 million awaits disbursement, loan amounts don’t match. I can’t make much sense out of it, because while Jason Shaefer has dug up a lot of interesting information, he doesn’t include dates for much of the financial detail he attributes to GEFA. Let’s see the VDT publish the documents they are referring to. The city does publish its Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports. The VDT has a website, and could publish whatever records it got from GEFA, which after all were produced using our tax dollars, and are therefore public records. Or if the documents are somewhere on GEFA’s website, the VDT could publish links to the specific documents. The VDT did publish a timeline of correspondence with the City about loans, so it could just as easily publish the GEFA documents and its own page-by-page and chart-by-chart comparison so we could all see for ourselves.

The VDT prepended this blurb to its timeline:

It has come to the attention of the Times that the Chamber of Commerce has called a special meeting on Tuesday to address what COC Pres. Myrna Ballard terms as “damage to our community’s reputation” due to the stories that have appeared in the newspaper. The invitation for the 9 a.m. meeting at the Chamber office was extended to only a select group of Chamber members, no media, and states that Mayor John Gayle and City Manager Larry Hanson will explain the city’s financial status. The Times takes very seriously the implication that the newspaper has written anything that is “inaccurate,” as stated by the Chamber. As such, the Times has chosen to show the public the information provided to the newspaper in response to questions posed to the City, with no editing, to allow citizens the opportunity to see for themselves if what the Times has written is an “inaccurate” portrayal of the city’s financial status.

What was that again?

The Times takes very seriously the implication that the newspaper has written anything that is “inaccurate,” as stated by the Chamber.

How about as stated by Lowndes County Manager Joe Pritchard? In a letter from him to me of 29 January 2013 Pritchard stated:

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Additional license fee for Sunday alcohol sales? @ LCC 2012-12-10

Why should businesses have to pay an additional license fee for Sunday alcohol sales, if the only justification is to raise money to pay for administering that license? That was a topic at yesterday morning's Lowndes County Commission Work Session for agenda item 6.a. Revision to the Lowndes County Alcoholic Beverage Ordinance.

Finance Director Stephanie Black mentioned the things we already heard from the staff, brown bagging, social hosts (serving alcohol at private events to underage drinkers), and the Sunday package sales. She said for the voter-approved Sunday alcohol sales the license fee would be $250, plus a requirement for an immigration affidavit. Commissioner Powell took exception to that additional license fee, which would be on top of a license fee already necessary for the rest of the week. Black and Chairman Paulk defended it as necessary to collect money to administer the license fee. Powell wondered if they'd need the money if they didn't have the license fee. Paulk said the city of Valdosta charges $1000 for a Sunday license. Powell said he disagreed with that, too.

Here's the video:

Additional license fee for Sunday alcohol sales?
Work Session, Lowndes County Commission (LCC),
Video by Gretchen Quarterman for Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange (LAKE), Valdosta, Lowndes County, Georgia, 10 December 2012.

-jsq

Underfunded ethics commission makes mistakes

Underfunding of Georgia’s ethics commission has led to numerous inappropriate fines, some of which are still being straightened out after many months. Maybe the legislature should fund the ethics commission to a working level and make it independent of the legislature.

David Rodock wrote for the VDT 29 September 2011, Transparency Confusion: New campaign contributions system leads to officials owing fines,

The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Commission posted a seven-page list online earlier this week ethics.ga.gov of local government officials who have supposedly failed to submit their campaign contribution information this year.

According to the state organization’s website, each late filer owes fines of different amounts.

Various elected officials were quoted in that article saying the fines were inappropriate. Many of those fines had already been removed from the list by the time that article was written.

There have been calls to properly fund that agency and to make it independent of the legislature. The Columbus Ledger-Inquirer wrote 25 January 2012, Ethics panel needs funding and independence,

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I feel we are selectively being left out of the process. —Barbara Stratton

Received yesterday on Videos for Lowndes County Commission 13 December 2011. -jsq
These videos are fantastic & I love the sequential playlist. How did you get permission to connect to the county microphones? Thanks to both of you, John & Gretchen, we citizens who can’t make all the numerous meetings have excellent access to view the proceedings. I need info on the new camera please.

I have a question. Since all meetings are open to the public & all information is accessible by open record requests why do the various entities have a habit of not publically answering questions related to money amounts publically? Very often I have noticed all local government entities share a habit of referring money & budget amounts and/or bid questions to the packets each member has in front of them instead of vocalizing them. Since the public attendees do not have access to this information I feel we are selectively being left out of the process. Citizens should not have to process & fund open record requests for information that should be part of the public meeting. Since you have more experience with local entities can you explain this practise?

-Barbara Stratton

An Open Forum on Financial Issues Concerning Consolidation —LCBOE 1 November 2011

Last chance for an open forum about school consolidation issues.

Lowndes County Board of Education will hold a An Open Forum on Financial Issues Concerning Consolidation:

6PM, 1 November 2011
Lowndes High Cafeteria
1606 Norman Drive
Valdosta, GA
All about the previous LCBOE Forum of 4 October 2011.

-jsq

Yes, I do have solar

Here’s my LTE in the VDT today. -jsq
A letter last week asked, “Do you have solar energy yourself?” Why yes, I do. When we installed solar panels on our farm workshop in 2009, the closest certified solar installer was in Marietta. There were only four in the state. Now there are forty. Georgia may yet catch up with North Carolina and even New Jersey!

Hannah Solar had all the paperwork ready when Okra Paradise Farms applied for a USDA REAP grant for more solar panels a few weeks ago. Much to our surprise,

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To the people of Valdosta and South Georgia —Occupy Valdosta

Posted today in Occupy Valdosta’s facebook page:
To the people of Valdosta and South Georgia

We, the local citizens occupying Valdosta, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; to nonviolently occupy public space; to create an open process to address the problems we face, and to generate solutions accessible to everyone.

Our issues are varied, yet related.

We seek

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Chinese Solar Companies Thrive on Manufacturing Innovations

Here in south Georgia we don’t even need to innovate manufacturing, we merely need to implement. Yet Georgia’s solar manufacturers Suniva and MAGE SOLAR are innovating. And we can innovate in deployment.

Kevin Bullis wrote in MIT Technology Review today, Chinese Solar Companies Thrive on Manufacturing Innovations:

Suntech Power’s CTO argues that the secret to China’s success is not cheap labor but advanced equipment for making solar cells.

Five years ago only one of the 10 largest solar cell producers was based in China. But by last year, four of the top five were based there, and each is growing fast: all four doubled their production last year. It’s widely believed that this success is due to low labor costs, but Stuart Wenham, CTO of the largest solar cell maker in China, Suntech Power, argues that the real causes are advances in manufacturing technology that have improved solar cells’ performance and cut costs.

How about this part: Continue reading