Highlights of February 18, 2013 Meeting
Invited speakers were North Georgia District Attorney, Parks White, and Chief Assistant District Attorney, Geoffrey Fogus. DA White gave a lively discussion on current status of his office and his plans to reduce the severe backlog of cases, timely prosecute cases, and assist local police and sheriff personnel. He gave helpful tips on protecting valuables and recovery of stolen items. He also advocates establishing a State Court in Hart County which would handle misdemeanors (and become a source of revenue for the county).
Highlights of March 18, 2013 Meeting
(This meeting is the first of a three-part series on issues affecting Lake Hartwell and the Savannah River.) 'Ms. Tonya Bonitatibus, Executive Director and Ms. Marci Cannon, Development Director, of Savannah Riverkeeper, Augusta, GA, discussed the health and environment of the entire Savannah River watershed. Ms. Bonitatibus discussed the complexities, problems, and industries beginning in the upper watershed to the 4th largest port by volume in the United States. While the Savannah is 4th most toxic river in the US, it supports about 110 species of fish and supplies potable water to several cities. She discussed many issues, including contaminants from farming, high levels of mercury, dissolved oxygen levels, riverbank erosion and cave-ins, waste released into the river, harbor deepening issues and its effect on the aquifer, and saltwater intrusion.
Highlights of April 15, 2013 Meeting
Mike Buckel reported that the School Board raised the 2010 millage rate from the temporary rate to remain “revenue neutral”while the tax digest decreased from 2009. GA law requires all school districts to decide whether to become charter systemsor retain current structure. This is a complex and difficult issue – HCPOA will monitor developments and assist discussions.The major part of the meeting was focused on political issues affecting the Hartwell basin. Ron Grimm, President of the Tugaloo Bay POA presented information on the lake. He discussed GA US Rep Doug Collins and SC Rep Jeff Duncan forming a working group from 35 states that have US Army COE managed river basins. He also discussed State Rep Alan Powell and State Senator John Wilkinson establishing the Savannah River Caucus with 31 other representatives in the basin. Similarly, SC Rep Don Bowen has established the Savannah River Basin Advisory Council. GA Bill 532 was introduced to endorse adaptive and single source management of the Basin. Mr. Grimm said there is progress. Rep Alan Powell commented it is not easy to get the Caucus members to agree. He has participated in beginning the dialogue with SC leaders to identify and promote common issues. He stressed the need for “strength in numbers” to address and solve lake issues. Darren Kendall, Gainesville Senior Staffer for US Rep Doug Collins said economics should be considered and we must keep Corps and government officials accountable.
Highlights of May 20, 2013 Meeting
Panel consisting of Mr. Al Olsen (the Blue Ridge Chapter of the Antique Boat Society), Mr. Michael Rich (Harbor Light Marina), Mr. Larry Torrence (Lake Hartwell Marketing Alliance) and Ms. Nicki Meyers (Executive Director of Hart County Chamber of Commerce) discussed economic impact of low lake levels on businesses in Hart County. Ms. Myers reviewed our land usage, our status as a “seasonal town” and the need to make Hart County a 12 month destination for tourism. The lack of safe water levels and the closure of Hart State park and other campgrounds reduced our visitor rate, in turn contributing to failure of restaurants and other businesses and reduction in local tax revenues. She said good water levels bring visitors and their spending contributes four million dollars in economic impact to Hart County. Mr. Rich said his business consists mainly of fuel sales, slip and boat rentals. Their records indicate they experience a 30% drop in business when the lake is down a mere five feet. The severe low levels of the previous years forced large boat owners (such as houseboats) to move their boats to lakes which do not experience drastic water level changes. These customers have not returned and only 60% of available slips are now rented vs. a 90% rental prior to the low water level years. Less income yields less local tax revenue.
Mr. Olsen spoke of the difficulties of planning a large event as the Antique Boat Festival on Lake Hartwell due to inconsistent water levels. Boat owners and visitors from distant States will not participate if water hazards are present and ramps are not safe and accessible. In 2013 members showed 40 boats and 2,500 visitors attended, generating hotel, restaurant, and fuel income as well as income to the Boy Scouts of Hartwell projects. Mr. Torrence emphasized the need to better address how the low lake levels adversely affect the economic issues of all three Georgia counties surrounding Lake Hartwell. He addressed the fact that when lake levels are down not only major events are cancelled but lake home owners do not visit or entertain which reduces revenue to our county.Mr. Olse
Representative Alan Powell commented on topics ranging from Corps lake management regulations, salt water intrusion, Georgia parks and State revenues, and the Clemson river study. Hart Cable recorded the meeting and televised it several times.
Highlights of June 20, 20213 Meeting
The meeting topic was Charter School System. Speakers were Dr. Sherrie Gibney-Sherman, State of GA Charter School consultant, and Jerry Bell, Superintendent of Hart Co Schools. Georgia law requires all school districts to select a new operating system from 3 options: 1) a charter system, 2) an investing in educational excellence system, or 3) remain status quo. Hart County is considering a charter school system and our guests spoke on the procedure to become a charter school system. Dr. Gibney-Sherman is a facilitator working with Hart County to understand and guide the county in the specifics of becoming a charter school system. Specific points to the charter system: 1. A charter or agreement must be developed between our local and State Board of Education departments complying with the State charter for all schools. 2. Accountability measures are increased; and schools must meet academic goals. 3. School Boards must develop a 5 year strategic plan and adopt a budget. Our county application and corresponding data must be finalized for State approval by November 1, 2013 for July 01, 2014 implementation. Hart County has established leadership teams to determine needs, establish goals, and secure funding to achieve these goals. One goal is to establish a career academy so our graduates are prepared to continue not only in academic but technical and vocational endeavors. The purpose is that our students not only meet but exceed educational goals.
There was no July 2013 meeting.
Highlights of August 18, 2013 Meeting
Meeting topic was the Firewise Community Program, presented by Mark Wiles, Wildfire Prevention Specialist from the Georgia Forestry Commission. Specialist Wiles introduced Chief Ranger Gary Roberts, and Gary White, project manager for the Georgia Forestry Commission. Specialist Wiles led the program centered on the national Firewise Community Program which strives to educate property owners on the proper method for making their property fire safe in the event of a destructive wildfire. This program has been adopted in Georgia and many communities have become certified. Specialist Wiles described the home ignition zone and the need to provide a buffer between your home and combustible material, removal of limbs, clutter and vegetation. He advised the importance of having an accessible driveway for fire equipment, having easily identifiable house numbers at the end of driveways, and burn permits. The Firewise program is established to teach a homeowner and their neighborhood community wildfire risks, mitigation information for their specific neighborhood, and the identification and implementation of solutions to these risks. Specialist Wiles volunteered to visit with anyone desiring further information on the program.
County commissioner Bill Myers gave a brief update on the tax bills and the 2014 budget. He advised indications are a millage rate increase will be necessary due to mandatory health insurance requirements and to consider a raise to county employees who have not had an increase in base salary in 7 years. He said fire station 9 is nearly built and they are working to build more fire stations and to establish 2 new EMC units.President Hamilton explained his objections to the loose wording of the SPLOST Fund referendum for the next 5 years to be included in the November election ballot. The current wording does not prioritize projects for the estimated 18 million dollars SPLOST revenue. He advised that the HCPOA position is to encourage our citizens to remain involved in the charter school system development and be knowledgeable about SPLOST.
Highlights of meeting on 9/16/2013
Board member Mike Buckel presented a brief synopsis of the SPLOST III sales tax expiring Dec. 31, 2014. Mr. Buckel also explained the HCPOA position on SPLOST IV stressing the open-ended wording and lack of commitment to do specific projects in the proposal; lack of a needs analysis and cost study; and need to apply business like methodology to design, prioritizing projects and obtain valid cost figures to realistically complete specific projects and contain expenses. Mr. Buckel invited our guest speaker, Board of Education member, Mr. Paul Abernathy to present his views.
Mr. Abernathy advised he “could not speak for the Board” but would try to explain their position in promoting a 2013 vote on SPLOST IV. Mr. Abernathy distributed a SPLOST ballot handout to members indicating monies received and projects covered by proceeding SPLOST funds. Significant points were: a.) At the end of 2014 Hart County should not have any carry-over debt from past SPLOST projects; b.) Monetary advantage to securing loan $$ while bond interest is at a low interest rate; c.) The purpose of a $25 million cap in SPLOST III and Georgia state policy governing it; d.) Ultimately, sales tax revenue for SPLOST 3 & 4 is dependent on economic conditions; e.) Reassured members that the Board was tracking expenses and should an economic downturn occur, there is a reserve of $1.8 million to meet necessary expenses; f.) The inclusion of referendum wording that reads The County Board of Commissioner’s shall be required to levy a tax on all property subject to taxation should the school system fall short of the debt payments is only a “ last resort safeguard” and is required to show bond holders we will meet our debt.
Mr. Abernathy advised members of numerous users and activities involving school facilities promoting student achievement and the need to allow some flexibility in SPLOST wording for unseen expenses and economic conditions.
Highlights of October 21, 2013 Meeting
Jr. Vice Commander Pat Hansen, of American Legion Post 109, shared their history and mission in Hart County. He explained their and a primary function is to assist and advocate for veterans’ needs. They are active in our community, sponsoring an educational scholarship and a week-long event for high school girls and boys to learn leadership in government. They are active in U.S. flag promotion and proper disposal of unserviceable flags. They provide and erect memorials for fallen county veterans and conduct a Memorial Day service as well as other direct services for veterans. Board Member
Terry Chenoweth updated members on significant lake issues. He gave a brief synopsis of the Savannah River study formal signing event. He expressed encouragement by the large number of legislators from Georgia and South Carolina attending the signing promoting the health of the Savannah River district. He reminded members the Corps must adhere to the current plan for winter lake storage. Our School Board Specialist, Mike Buckel, gave members an update on the passage by the Board of Education for Hart County schools to petition the State government to become a charter school system. He discussed SPLOST issues and consequences of Hart County taking on debt in a period of reduced revenue collection. County commissioner Bill Myers clarified the point that the Board of Commissioners is the only legal Board to authorize a raise in taxes. President Garry Hamilton stated the HCPOA did not purchase or erect any of the “Vote NO on SPLOST” signs placed in the county. He repeated the HCPOA does not object to SPLOST projects but asks the Board of Education to be fiscally responsible in debt management vs. expenditures.
Highlights of the October 20, 2014 Meeting
President Hamilton introduced Board members Mike Buckel and Ritch Vandeventer who presented a power point presentation entitled “Fire, Aim, Ready”, which dealt with the Board of Education’s seemingly untraditional approach to upcoming ESPLOST projects to be voted on in November.
Mike began the program by reaffirming that HCPOA is not opposed to any of the ESPLOST projects, however, we are concerned that poor planning could be financially disastrous to Hart County taxpayers. The goal of HCPOA has been to provide factual information to voters so they can make an informed decision in the November election.
The conventional ‘Ready, Aim, Fire’ approach involves time to develop a responsible and efficient plan. Being Ready to undertake three major construction projects requires diligent preliminary work including a clear definition of the projects with specifications for each. Then, when products of the Ready stage are refined with value engineering, reliable cost estimates, budgets, and bid packaging, the Aim step is complete. Only then are the projects truly ‘shovel ready’ and voters have the information to vote on ESPLOST funding. The Fire stage is complete when ESPLOST has passed and construction contracts are awarded.
Graphic data provided a visual record of Hart County’s long record of debt with regard to past construction projects. Cost overruns are the rule rather than the exception. HCPOA is concerned that the BoEd’s income projections are high but construction costs are estimated at an unrealistically low level. We also believe starting all three major projects at one time will be unmanageable.
Ritch Vandeventer’s portion of the program focused on how the BoEd and other ESPLOST supporters base ‘selling’ the program to the public on emotional factors rather than addressing real world issues. Instead of providing details, spending limits, prioritized projects, and accurate cost estimates they want voters to basically sign a blank check.
A comparison of how the business community would handle a project of this magnitude to how the BoEd is currently proceeding revealed major deficiencies on the part of the BoEd in the areas of transparency, detail, fiscal responsibility, verifiable facts. and defense of proposal. Voters have a right to have all the facts before making such a large, long term commitment. HCPOA proposes that the vote to pass ESPLOST be delayed for another year. There are sufficient funds on hand to allow the Ready and Aim steps to be completed on the College, Career Academy and gymnasium plus finish the Agriculture Center. We would still be on schedule to start construction on the remaining two projects in 2015 but would postpone adding debt for another year. A year’s delay would also provide time to focus on academic deficiencies and get Hart County High School off the state ALERT list.
Bill Fogerty gave a short presentation on the American Legion’s Wreaths Across America program which our local Post 109 is working on for this Christmas season.
Highlights of November 18, 2013 Meeting
Vice President Fogerty began the meeting asking for a moment of silence in recognition and gratitude of county Commissioner Dan Reyen for his outstanding service to our county.
Board member and SPLOST specialist, Mike Buckel, was recognized for his continued diligence in covering and reporting on SPLOST issues. Vice President Fogerty gave a brief synopsis of past Savannah River basin issues principally addressing the Savannah River comprehensive study, winter drawdown, Clemson Intelligent River study, and building of 3 new water reservoirs in Georgia.
Next was a brief summary of the 2009, 10, and 11 tax bills and the receipt of final tax bills based on value and the approved millage rate for each year. Topics discussed included the issue of combined properties, payment due dates, accuracy of figures and millage rates. Members were advised if they had purchased new property during this period they should contact their closing attorney or bank to determine responsible parties for any tax liability due. Suggestions were made to review for accuracy the previous paid amounts and the inclusion of an interest charge on a billing.
Dr. Bob Techo explained that the county has adopted mass appraisal procedures and that personal property and boat values have been corrected and adjusted per American Boating Association calculations.
There was no meeting in December 2013.