The second of three public hearings regarding to the proposed millage rate for property taxes in Gordon County was conducted Tuesday evening, and two people took to the podium to ask questions but not necessarily support or oppose the proposed millage rate.
The first public hearing was conducted Tuesday morning, but no one from the public showed up to share their thoughts at that one.
The second public hearing was conducted in conjunction with the Gordon County Commission's monthly meeting.
A third and final hearing will follow on Tuesday, Oct. 1, at 6 p.m. at the County Administration Building at 201 N. Wall St.
Tuesday's 11 a.m. hearing was brief, as only county officials and a representative from the Calhoun Times were present, however, two people signed up to speak at the evening meeting.
Christian Paul, who said he works with the Young Americans for Liberty, asked a series of questions of County Administrator Jim Ledbetter, ranging from details related to payroll costs and new police cars.
Ledbetter answered each question, noting that the budget does not include cost-of-living adjustments for employees. Commissioner Norris Sexton also pointed out that insurance costs for the county rose this year, with Ledbetter adding that the number went up by about $800,000.
"If you can find a line item that can be cut, you are welcome to take a look," said Ledbetter.
Paul didn't speak specifically about the millage rate, but rather offered that his group likes to check in on local elected leaders to make sure they are being held accountable.
"We just wanted to make sure our local Republicans are sticking to their conservative principals," he said.
Another resident, David Hand, also spoke, but didn't offer commentary about the proposed rate as much as his own recent property tax increases due to the valuation of his home. He said his taxes have gone up three years straight.
"I know my house may be worth more, sure, but it's getting older too," said Hand.
Ledbetter replied that more than 800 home evaluation appeals were filed this year, and that all but about 250 have been taken care of. He told Hand that he would be glad to take a look at his situation and see if he can help.
"You can call me and we can make sure you are taken care of fairly," Ledbetter told him.
The Gordon County Board of Commissioners proposed the county's current millage rate for property taxes of 9.631 mills be continued for fiscal year 2019-2020. While not an increased rate, the proposed tax levy is an increase of 0.728 mills over the rollback millage rate of 8.903 and will require an increase in property taxes of 8.18%.
In Georgia, law requires that a rollback millage rate must be computed when the total digest of taxable property is prepared that will produce the same total revenue on the current year's digest that last year's millage rate would have produced had no reassessments occurred. Essentially, this allows the local entities to continue receiving the same relative amount of income from property taxes year-to-year.
For taxpayers with a home that has a fair market value of $150,000, the average value of a home in the county, the proposed millage rate will result in a tax increase of approximately $43.68. The proposed tax increase for a nonhomestead property with a fair market value of $150,000 is approximately $43.68.
Ledbetter said previously that the Board of Commissioners elected to maintain the current millage rate in an effort to balance the county's budget. He also emphasized that a millage rate of 9.631 mills, though not the rollback, is still the lowest millage rate the county has seen since 2010 and has helped the county see nearly $48 million in actual growth.
"We were at 8.9 mills then, in the middle of the recession," Ledbetter said. "As a result of taking rollbacks in the past, we've actually had less revenue coming in. In 2017, our millage rate was 9.829 mills and we had to use reserves. In 2016-2017, we used reserves. We can't keep doing that. By keeping the millage rate where it is, the prediction is that we will generate $1.8 million more than last year. That will get us what we need to balance the budget."
Starting now, Calhoun and Gordon County art patrons can get into the Christmas spirit by donating to the Harris Arts Center's 15th annual Festival of Trees, which will be held from Nov. 1 to Dec. 8 at the center, located at 212 S. Wall St.
Now a holiday tradition for families, the Festival of Trees fundraiser gives sponsors a chance to decorate and design a Christmas tree, wreath, centerpiece or specialty gift basket that will be auctioned off to the public in support of the center's local art initiatives. It also gives auction participants a chance to win these items, which in the past have included a "Cat in the Hat"-themed tree, trees in the shape of a snowman and Santa Claus, a dancing reindeer tree, woodland trees, a ladder tree, sports trees, princess trees, a welded rebar tree and a PVC pipe tree, to name a few.
There is a color scheme for every decor, from heart-warming red and green to fuchsia and lime. Rustic to refined describe the centerpieces and wreaths that can grace either cabin or country estate.
"We've had some really special and unique trees in the last several years," said Harris Art Center Executive Director Jennifer Dudley. "Last year, we had a unicorn tree and a 'Paw Patrol' tree. We've had some that are more elegant and aren't necessarily themed. There was an all white tree that was just gorgeous, and there was one with fruit on it that was more traditional."
This year, Dudley said the Harris Arts Center hopes to once again see the community be as creative as possible with their donations within the required guidelines.
Donated trees should be 5 feet or shorter in height, made of artificial greenery only, and decorated all the way around with all ornaments secured into place with either wire or glue. Donations may be any color, style, or medium, made of any material, with or without lights. They may also be non-traditional and do not have to resemble "normal" Christmas decorations. Donated "baskets" may be any type of container and can include gift certificates and other gifts.
Locals who want to donate but do not have the ability to design and craft a tree or basket on their own may have one created for them by Harris Arts Center employees for $200 and $150 respectively.
All donations must be turned in by the end of October at the latest and can be delivered to the center Monday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Bidding will start for donated items on Nov. 4 and the bids will close on Dec. 8 at 5 p.m., Dudley said. A "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" holiday music concert will be held on the evening of Dec. 8 with a performance by the Hare Boys. Hot chocolate and other Christmas treats will be provided.
"Sometimes we have people staking out their claim for the tree or basket they want and there's a bidding war that happens," Dudley said. "So, that's a lot of fun, and then with the music as well, it's really become a beloved tradition in Calhoun. We have so many people come by each year. People know to come out and celebrate with us as a way to kick off and get into the spirit of the Christmas season."
Proceeds from the silent auction benefit the Harris Arts Center's Roland Hayes Museum, plays, concerts and children's programming. Donors have the option of placing promotional printed materials beside their entries. Contact Dudley to donate or learn about sponsorship opportunities by calling 706-629-2599.
Gordon County firefighters responded to a field and vehicle fire on Pine Chapel Road N.E. at about 1 p.m. on Wednesday that officials say was caused by someone burning debris in spite pf a burn ban.
Battalion Chief Heath Smith said Wednesday evening that two vehicles with a combined value of about $3,500 were destroyed during the fire, and a utility trailer was also damaged. Two barns were threatened by the fire, but firefighters knocked it back before those buildings were damaged.
Smith stressed that a burn ban is still in effect in Gordon County due to extreme drought.
Multiple trucks were sent to the scene and firefighters were observed quickly containing the fire.
Though burning leaf piles and campfires are hallmarks of fall, Georgia's current drought is impacting decisions to burn outdoors and the Georgia Forestry Commission is urging everyone to follow established procedures and exercise extreme caution when using fire outside.
"There's a five step fire danger system used nationally, and right now Georgia is in the four and five categories, indicating very high fire danger," said Georgia Forestry Commission Chief of Protection Frank Sorrells. "The decision to burn must be made on specific weather criteria in each location, and because safety is always our top concern, burn permitting may be restricted based on the fire danger forecast."
Burn permits issued by the Georgia Forestry Commission are required for any outdoor burning in the state to help prevent wildfires and problems generated by smoke. In 54 counties, primarily in North Georgia, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division sets annual summer burning restrictions to reduce emissions from ground level ozone that may jeopardize air quality. Those restrictions are set to be lifted on Tuesday, Oct. 1.
"The GFC will resume issuing burn permits on a day to day basis, following our established fire danger and smoke management procedures, in those counties which have been under the EPD Burn Ban since May first," said Sorrells. "We recognize the importance of and promote prescribed burning for the many wildfire prevention, forest management and agriculture benefits it provides. However, right now we're asking everyone to be extremely vigilant when doing any open burning, including burning yard debris."
Wildfire activity is on the rise statewide, according to Sorrells. Over the past three months, Georgia Forestry Commission wildland firefighters have responded to 41 percent more fires than its previous five-year average. Sorrells said escaped debris burns are the number one cause of wildfires in our state, and it may be necessary and wise to delay or postpone open burning if local conditions are unfavorable.
The GFC recommends those who burn keep tools on hand such as water, a shovel and a cellphone.
"Never hesitate to call 911, and never leave your fire unattended" Sorrells said.
The 54 counties whose EPD summer burn bans are being lifted are: Banks, Barrow, Bartow, Bibb, Butts, Carroll, Catoosa, Chattooga, Cherokee, Clarke, Clayton, Cobb, Columbia, Coweta, Crawford, Dawson, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Floyd, Forsyth, Fulton, Gordon, Gwinnett, Hall, Haralson, Heard, Henry, Houston, Jackson, Jasper, Jones, Lamar, Lumpkin, Madison, Meriwether, Monroe, Morgan, Newton, Oconee, Paulding, Peach, Pickens, Pike, Polk, Putnam, Richmond, Rockdale, Spalding, Troup, Twiggs, Upson, Walker and Walton.
Calhoun Attorney Bill Thompson met with a group of student volunteers from Calhoun High School on Thursday who have signed up to help run the Gordon County Chamber of Commerce's Candidates Forum.
Thompson's goal was to give the students a crash course in local politics, as the students will work with an advisor to create a set of questions to ask during the forum on Thursday, Oct. 3.
The event will begin with a meet and greet at 5:30 p.m., followed by the forum at 6 p.m.
The group heard about millage rates, property and education taxes, services provided from local governments, and how politics plays a role in all that. The students also learned about the local races that voters will decide in November.
Thompson tasked the students with researching each race and candidate so they can ask good questions during the forum.
"It's not as easy as you think, is it?" he asked after an initial request for potential questions was met with silence from the group.
Thompson also advised students to read the newspaper as he passed around the most recent edition of The Calhoun Times, telling them it's the best source to learn what's going on in their own community and with their neighbors. He also talked about how philosophy plays a role in politics as well when zoning issues were discussed.
"What right do you have to tell me what to do with my property?" he asked. "Let's be honest about it. Those are competing philosophies on the basic concepts of freedom."
Thompson advised students to look at each race individually and ask why each candidate is running and what they hope to accomplish. Every city, town and board has their own responsibilities to contend with, so the candidates will face different challenges and the people asking the questions should consider that fact.
"Believe it or not, but politics are ultimately is noble. I know no one on TV is going to tell you that, but it is. And it's important," he said.
Thompson will meet with groups of students at both Gordon County high schools as well, and the students will work with members of the media to craft the questions for next week's forum.
The Municipal General Election Ballot includes current Calhoun Mayor Jimmy Palmer running unopposed for reelection; current City Councilman Jacki Palazzolo running unopposed for reelection to Post One; and incumbent City Councilman Al Edwards running against Judy Peterson for Post Two.
Eddie Reeves is unopposed for reelection to Post Four of the Calhoun City School Board, while Becky George and Don Hood are opposed in the race for Post Five on the Calhoun City School Board, which will be vacated by the retirement Tony Swink.
In Fairmount, Steve Brannon and Harry L. Pierce are running against one another in the mayoral race. John Holsomback is unopposed for Fairmount City Council Post Two and Billy Mauldin is unopposed for Fairmount City Council Post Four.
Resaca's mayoral race includes candidates Mitch Reed and Nathan Wyatt. Todd Rutledge is unopposed for Resaca Town Council Post One, but Post Two sees competition between Ben Niles and Christopher "Kit" Cunningham.
James Miller and Taylor Payne are running against one another in the City of Plainville mayoral race, while Ray Black is unopposed for Post One and Clark Bunch is unopposed for Post Two on the City Council.