A “freeze” on spending may be coming in Statham. The incoming new mayor and an incoming city council member favor some kind of spending halt until the budget is reviewed.
Mayor-elect Joe Piper, who will take office Jan. 2 said Monday, Dec. 16, he would favor a “freeze” on all spending. Any exceptions, he said, would have to be approved by him.
Piper and incoming council member Gary Venable said the city’s budget should be reviewed. Venable said at the council's work session Dec. 12 the revenue is behind and spending is above the budget limits.
The subject was not on the council’s agenda Tuesday, Dec. 17, and was not raised.
Piper said he believes a budget review can be done by new officials in 30 days.
Venable presented some budget numbers to the council Dec. 12. He said the city needs “to tackle” its financials.
He called the financial statement as of Dec. 6 “alarming” numbers. Venable had a printout of the budget from July 1 to Dec. 6.
Numbers that got attention included water billed of about $175,000, compared to $867,358 that was budgeted and the amount spent for water of $233,069, compared to the $70,000 budgeted.
City administrator Mai Chang told the council the amount spent is so high because the city is buying water from the county for $5.07 per thousand gallons and $3.50 per thousand gallons from Winder. The city paid Winder $1 per thousand gallons for the first 30,000 gallons of water.
The city has been buying water from the county for months because the city’s reservoir water has drawn complaints about the odor, taste and look of it.
Venable also pointed out:
•the amount billed for sewer service has been $42,009 and $359,053 was budgeted.
•water taps were budgeted for $33,000 and the city has received $10,250 halfway through the year.
•sewer taps were budgeted to bring in $247,500 and revenue has been $49,391.
•new construction permits are budgeted to bring in $40,000 and $12,268 has been generated.
Venable had a few dozen budget lines marked.
According to the revenue generated, the city is about $500,000 short after six months. Revenue has been $1.085 million and $3.2 million was budgeted.
According to expenses, the city has spent less than the budget – about $1.136 million compared to about $1.6 million as budgeted through six months.
Tammy Crawley, also a new council member, said the city has to get its audits “under control.”
“I don’t want to copy last year’s (budget) and put a new date on it,” Crawley said.
All of the new officials said the city needs to spend money on its infrastructure – water was mentioned prominently – and spending on other items needs to be cut.
Crawley and Venable said the city’s website needs to be updated and much more information put on it.
Venable said the city’s spending and revenue figures could go on the website so residents could see how money comes in and is spent.
Piper said he would study why the city is “333 percent over budget for our water purchases” and would review the sewer infrastructure and “find out why we are essentially under budget by approximately 65 percent.”
Venable said he does not believe there is “any kind of (financial) plan in place.”
He said he would like the city to eventually have a strategic plan that would replace infrastructure on a regular basis. He said the city’s water lines were put in so long ago that no one is certain where they all are.
“I don’t think we’re going to solve anything overnight,” Venable said. “We, at least, have to start.”
The Statham City Council approved a new acting police chief Tuesday, Dec. 17, but it took four closed sessions over three meetings.
The council continued to fuss over differences between current and new officials.
The meeting degenerated at the end when council member Hattie Thrasher presented a bench for outgoing mayor Robert Bridges. Catherine Corkren, a critic of Bridges and the city government, was shouted down and drowned out by hissing when she tried to say, “On behalf of the people you hurt ….”
Thrasher said the bench was from the Sunflower Festival Committee and the council.
The police chief saga started when chief Allan Johnston turned in a brief letter of resignation Dec. 2. However, according to one official, Johnston turned in his cruiser and personal items Dec. 3 and did not work out his notice. His last day on the job was to be Dec. 15.
The council hired John Davis as the acting chief, but some council members were confused about what position was being hired. The position was referred to as the “assistant chief” and the “interim” chief.
John Wood, who had been the assistant chief, declined to be named chief after a closed session Dec. 11 — when two closed sessions were held for the same purpose in the same meeting. Wood also resigned as the assistant chief and took a patrol position.
Council member Betty Lyle made a motion to hire Wood for a year and to provide him with six-months salary if he was fired without cause. That motion did not pass.
Wood declined the job after the closed session.
A fourth closed session was held for about 13 minutes Tuesday night before Davis was hired.
The council held closed sessions to discuss the police Dec. 11 (two), Dec. 12 and Dec. 17.
The assistant chief and an update on the city’s audits were added to the agenda Tuesday.
Mai Chang, city administrator, said the FY2017 audit is on schedule to be completed by the end of the year.
Joe Piper, the incoming mayor, said he and council members will meet with members of Bates Carter, the firm hired to do the 2017 audit, at 9 a.m. Jan. 7 “to see if they are on track with commitments made to (the) previous administration.”
The new mayor and council members also will meet at 1 p.m. Jan. 2 with Athens Micro, the city’s information technology firm, “to discuss our partnership.”
Bates Carter was hired in August to complete the past-due audits. The state requires annual audits to be turned in by Dec. 31.
Statham has been on the state’s non-compliance list because of its lack of audits since early in 2016. The city does not have complete audits for FY2017 and 2018. In another two weeks, the 2019 audit will be non-compliant.
Bates Carter said the FY2017 audit would be completed by the end of 2019. The firm is charging $12,950 for the work. If the company is retained for the FY2018 audit, the price will be the same.
Chang said the company said it would take three to four months to do the FY2018 audit.
In other business, the council:
•approved spending $500 for the Barrow County adult literacy program. The city has spent that amount for the past several years.
•heard a plea from Tammy Crawley at the work session Dec. 12 to provide more time for water customers to pay their bills. Crawley said the city had given customers more than 20 days to pay past-due bills before the service was cut off. She said it was changed and now the service is cut off on the sixth day. She said bills are sent out about the 15th of the month. Customers have five days to pay and then service is cut off. Chang said the city policy has been the same for a “long time” and had not been enforced. Chang also said the city attempts to “work with” any customer with a past-due bill.
•heard Corkren say the sewer lines for the Lakes of Statham subdivision are risky and bonds adopted for potential repairs “will not come near” paying for potential problems. She cited a report from the city’s engineering firm, EMI, that she said recommended against the city owning the sewer line.
The annual Live Nativity on the downtown Bethlehem Square will be held under the “Star” Sunday and Monday, Dec. 22-23, at 7:30 p.m. each night.
Bethlehem First United Methodist Church has coordinated the event since 1963 and has traditionally held two showings per night, but this year there will only be one showing, leaders state.
The church’s first Christmas Pageant was held in December 1963 through the idea of the Rev. Wayne Fears. The star above the town square predates the pageant. According to leaders, around 1951 Methodist minister L.G. Martin first conceived the idea of a large, lighted star in a public place at Christmas.
He erected the star at the Methodist church and it was later moved to the town square, where it is easily visible from Highway 11.
Agape Ink, 669 Atlanta Hwy. SE, Winder, will hold its annual Christmas dinner and presents with Santa for families in need at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 24.
Families can sign up for the dinner by texting Agape owner Shane Whelchel at 470-422-9608 and listing the ages and gender of their children so organizers can get appropriate gifts.
The elderly are also invited.
"We are grateful for our community and just want to share," Whelchel said. "It's been growing every year and we are hoping to keep it growing to the point that no mouth goes unfed and no child in our community doesn't get to have that huge smile opening a gift at Christmas."
Winder Healthcare and Rehabilitation, 263 East May St., is now accepting donations for its annual Christmas Store.
Ideal donations for the event mainly include children's toys, according to leaders. However, the store will also accept men's and women’s clothes, slippers, cologne/perfume, body wash, hats, pajamas and jewelry.
The store will be accepting donations until the morning of Dec. 20.
Call 770-867-2108 and ask for Caige in Activities for more information.
The business is also offering people the opportunity to "adopt" or give a resident a Christmas gift. Those interested can contact the business and obtain information on a residence. They are asked to submit gifts by Monday, Dec. 23.
The following American Red Cross blood drives are coming up in Barrow County:
•1-6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20, at the Perry Rainey Center, 16 College St., Auburn.
•1-6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 2, at the Winder Public Library, 189 Bellview St.
•noon to 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 3, at Winder First United Methodist Church, 280 North Broad St.
To donate blood, download the American Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enable the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device to make an appointment or for more information.
All blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients, leaders state.
A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.
Keep Barrow Beautiful will host a "Bring One for the Chipper" event Saturday, Jan. 4.
The event will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Barrow County Leisure Services Complex, 80 Lee St., Winder, between fields 8-11.
People are encouraged to bring their Christmas trees to be recycled. AKA Tree Care is sponsoring the event.
For more information, contact Danielle Austin at email@example.com or 770-307-3005.