The City of Hoschton received a stellar report from its financial audit for FY2020 during its regular council meeting June 3.
The city managed to end the year with increased assets and revenues, decreased expenditures and relatively no increase in debt despite the pandemic and other barriers.
The city increased its current assets by $3.5 million from 2019 to 2020, which is “absolutely astronomical,” said Rachel Miller, Hoschton’s auditor.
According to the report, in FY2020, the city’s investment in capital assets increased by 53%. Proceeds from SPLOST and LOST also increased from 2019 with an increase of $75,495 in the SPLOST fund balance.
Compared to FY2019, total revenues for governmental activities increased 35% due to increases in charges for services and more grants received in the general fund. Other taxes received in the general fund primarily consisted of property alcoholic beverage, franchise and title ad valorem taxes.
With consumers purchasing more vehicles, an increase in title ad valorem taxes was received by the city. What’s more, the population growth due to annexations of properties during 2020 has also positively impacted the city financially.
Similarly, total expenditures for governmental activities increased 34% due to added wages, staffing positions, personnel costs and professional fees for the planning and development of city projects.
Business-type activity revenues decreased seven percent and business-related expenditures decreased by 9% from FY2019. The decrease in revenues were due to the decrease in water/sewer tap fee revenues. Less salaries and related personnel expenses, professional fees and repairs and maintenance caused the decrease in expenditures.
With total appropriations of $1,504,625 the city only spent $1,350,132, which is $154,493 less than budgeted for FY2020..
The report credits fiscal management and expenditure control in the city’s success in keeping the budget in balance.
The city has seen a significant increase in requests for residential and commercial building permits, which has caused an increase in the need for additional water and sewer systems and general government services. The increase in demand for services will provide increased revenues for the city, according to the report.
With a great financial position and working capital, the city plans to maintain a conservative fiscal position while increasing services, officials said.
In other busines at the meeting, the council:
● tabled an application for rezoning of property on Towne Center Pky. from commercial highway oriented districting to commercial motor vehicles service and repair districting for a proposed convenience store and with gas pumps and a fast-food restaurant.
● tabled an application for rezoning of 4.87 acres on West Jefferson St. at its entrance with Panther Court from from single-family moderate density residential to multiple family residential for 41 townhomes.
● approved rezoning of 1.11 acres of property owned by David Nichols on White Street from low density residential to suburban residential district. The conditional approval requires a right of way dedication of 25 feet from the centerline of White Street.
● approved annexation and zoning of 3.02 acres of property on Barnett Road from agricultural in unincorporated Jackson Couny to low density residential.
● approved variance requests by City of Hoschton to reduce the minimum building separation required by the city’s zoning ordinance from 20 feet for one-story buildings to 10 feet, to reduce the required side building setback from 12 to five feet and to waive the requirement for on-site detention of storm drainage on less than an acre of property on Jopena Blvd., which will house two single-story office buildings.
● approved rezoning and variance requests for property on Bell Street fronting the west side of Hwy. 53. The property will be rezoned from office residential to general commercial highway district. The variances approved will waive and reduce various required building setbacks, reduce minimum building separation distances, authorize parking within a right of way and allow vehicle movements to back into a public right of way. The variance allowing right of way parking shall terminate upon notice of the city should it be necessary for future developments.
● approved ordinance amending the multi-family residential section of the zoning distrits article of the Hoschton Zoning Ordinance as it pertains to dimensional requirements for fee simple townhomes.
● approved ordinance amendment to add a new section to the Hoschton Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance to repeal the requirement to have more than one entrance to a subdivision of 50 or more lots.
● approved franchise agreement renewal for Jackson EMC.
● approved updated Schedule of Fees for planning and zoning and building permitting.
● approved agreement with the Jackson County Board of Education for north water tank site. The Jackson County Comprehensive High School Panther’s logo will be painted on the water tank.
● approved updated policies and procedures of the Hoschton Cemetery Ordinance.
The Rotary Club of Braselton recently announced its commitment to the Northeast Georgia Health System Foundation to purchase essential medical equipment for fragile newborns in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC) Braselton.
Currently, when an infant is born and needs treatment in the NICU, a special Giraffe Omnibed Carestation is utilized to transport and monitor these fragile patients. When the patient census is high, Carestations are shared between the NGMC Gainesville NICU and the Braselton NICU, resulting in the delay of care and transportation from Labor & Delivery to the NICU. The Carestations offer state-of-the-art technology, enabling NICU teams to monitor and treat NGHS’ tiniest patients; and offer many patient benefits, including a neutral thermal environment and minimizes the handling and moving of fragile newborns, reducing dangerous stress on the infants. Braselton Rotary Club’s commitment to provide two additional Carestations for the Braselton NICU means that patients at both campuses will have improved access to care and more than 115 patients will use the specialty beds annually.
In recognition of the Braselton Rotary Club’s generosity, a custom plaque will be placed in the main waiting room of Labor & Delivery on the third floor of NGMC Braselton, demonstrating the impact philanthropy makes on the organization.
For more information, contact Hardy Johnson, President, Braselton Rotary Club at email@example.com.
Citizens packed the room at this week’s Jackson County Board of Commissioners meeting, upset over spikes on property tax assessments mailed out recently across the county.
During almost one hour of input, residents cited concerns with hiked assessments, along with the general lack of clarity surrounding the process. Several others again asked the county to consider providing tax relief for senior citizens.
ASSESSMENTS VS. TAXES
Each year, property across the county is assessed at fair market value. For residential, it is based largely on recent sales in the area. Assessments are mailed out each spring, and those notices include an estimated tax that will be set in the fall. Commission chairman Tom Crow stressed that the estimated tax number listed on that assessment is misleading since the actual millage rates won’t be set until later.
“The estimated tax number that you saw on that form is required by the state. As best I can tell, it serves no purpose except to upset the citizens,” said Crow. “It’s not a real number until we get to our point of setting the budget.”
The county lowered its millage rate this past year and Crow expects the board may do the same again this year.
“We have not calculated, but I can say that it’s going to come down,” he said. “…We will only tax and collect the money that’s needed to carry-out the day-to-day operations of this county.”
COMPLICATED TAX SITUATION
AND SENIOR EXEMPTIONS
Jackson County has a complicated tax situation with three school systems, multiple municipalities and fire district taxes, in addition to the county-wide tax.
Several residents asked the commissioners to consider offering some tax relief to senior citizens. Some residents questioned why the county doesn’t offer a senior exemption on school taxes like some surrounding counties. But Crow noted the county doesn’t have the mix of industrial and commercial to make up the difference.
“Exempting us from that school tax is not fair to the non-seniors because we do not have enough commercial and industrial warehouses to pick up that transfer,” said Crow. “…“Somebody else has to pay that dollar.”
One resident, John Yarbrough, asked the county to consider shifting some of the tax burden from seniors onto large warehouses.
“We need to let these seniors that have lived in this county – many their whole life — let these people enjoy their golden years without having to worry about whether they’re going to be able to pay their property tax,” said Yarbrough.
Crow said one possibility to bring in more from industrial property owners would be to implement an income tax, but that would have to be applied across the board — commercial, industrial and residential.
“And I’m not for that,” Crow said.
AND OTHER CONCERNS
Other residents voiced concerns over the lack of clarity in the assessment process. One resident questioned who holds the board of tax assessors accountable, while another asked the commissioners to intervene on behalf of the community and ask for the assessments to be reconsidered.
“We do not have any control over that office,” Crow said at the beginning of the meeting.
The board of tax assessors is an appointed 5-member group that is trained by the state. The assessment results are audited annually by the Georgia Department of Revenue.
“Each year after the assessors mail out those forms that you just received, the state Department of Revenue comes into our county and they go into that office and they look at the same sales that our people looked at,” Crow said.
If there’s a significant inaccuracy in those numbers, the county is “severely fined,” Crow said.
“It is to our interest that those assessments that’s mailed out be as accurate as possible,” said Crow. “If they’re not, we’re fined.”
Two residents also cited concerns with discrepancies on the assessments including inaccuracies on individual assessments and uniformity when looking at assessments for comparable subdivisions in close proximity. Crow noted there is an appeals process for assessments.
Others were concerned with the general increase in assessment values and the impact it could have on their properties.
“We are concerned that this trend of assessing our homes at these rates will continue to rise unabated and become burdensome causing not only our monthly expenses to increase dramatically due to the significantly higher amounts for escrow, but will also have a negative impact on our ability to attract potential home-buyers should we need to sell our home in the future,” said Mindy Gibbons.
Also at its meeting, the board:
•approved accepting a grant to help fund the Jackson County Drug Court and Piedmont Circuit Veterans Court for FY2022. The local match is $12,603 for the drug court and $10,467 for the veterans court.
•discussed tower and lease agreements to allow construction of towers for the new public safety radio system.
Also discussed at its June 7 meeting that the board could vote on at its June 21 meeting were:
•purchasing a new ambulance, totaling $80,000.
•renewing an intergovernmental agreement with the Georgia Department of Transportation to provide inmate detail for maintenance along state highways.
•renewing a capacity agreement with the Georgia Department of Corrections to allow state inmates to be housed at the Jackson County Correctional Institute.
•a mid-year salary adjustment for county employees including a 3% increase for public safety and 2% increase for general government employees. In his report, county manager Kevin Poe said the adjustment would help the county “to keep salaries competitive with the surrounding government jurisdictions and to keep up with wages in the local labor market.” Chairman Crow recommended implementing the adjustment beginning this past April. If approved, the increases would cost $450,000 for the current year.
•a lease from the Jackson County Habitat for Humanity, resulting in $32,784 in revenue for the county annually. Habitat leases a space from the county for its ReStore in Commerce.
•a change order with Magnum Contracting, LLC, for electrical work at Gum Springs Park in West Jackson. Magnum received the contract to complete the first phase of work. The $220,000 change order would allow the company to complete the remaining electrical work.
Hoschton's newly-created Downtown Development Authority will hold a planning session on June 11 at noon. The meeting will take place at Hoschton City Hall, 79 City Square.
The DDA's first official meeting, originally set for June 1, was cancelled.
Braselton’s Main Street program earned another national re-certification for upholding its work plan and fulfilling its partnership with the Main Street America program.
The Chicago-based program recognizes exemplary commitment to preservation-based economic development and community revitalization. Braselton first achieved accreditation in 2015.
“It’s another significant milestone for our Main Street program,” said Downtown Development Authority chair Hollie Ansley. “The heart of our work focuses on the historic downtown and the many possibilities it holds.”
According to the National Main Street Center, the review criteria determines the communities that are building comprehensive and sustainable revitalization efforts and includes standards such as fostering public-private partnerships, documenting progress and actively preserving historic buildings.
"We value the tools and resources made available to us through the National Main Street program and look forward to continuing revitalization efforts in our downtown district," Ansley said.
Higher building costs are one reason property appraisals in Jackson County are up this year.
Chief Appraiser Alan Sargent said that the county updated its cost tables this year to build a house and that higher building costs helped push up property values.
Overall, Sargent said the county's tax digest was up 9%, but that is before all appeals have been heard. Through May 28, the county had received 107 appeals, officials said.
Updated tax assessments recently went out to local property owners. Those included an estimated tax for this year, but the new millage rates haven't been set yet by local governments.
Jackson County has a complex property tax landscape with three school systems and multiple municipal tax levies, in addition to the county tax rate. The county also has multiple fire districts that set individual tax rates.