Highlights for Meeting January 20, 2014

Vice President Fogerty opened our meeting explaining the next 4 meetings would be devoted to specific criteria expected to be pertinent to E-SPLOST IV:

A) An agriculture center;

B) CTAE, a career technical agriculture building; ​

C) Construction of a new multi-purpose gym;

D) Board of Education perspective.

This meeting would focus a panel discussion by prominent members of the agricultural community on the benefits of building an Ag center and its service to our students and community.  Invited speakers were:  Mr. Ralph Kotal, retired dairyman; Mr. Dick Phillips, Wakefield Farms; Mr. Larry Bramblett, cattleman; and Ms. Melea Baldwin, senior UGA student of Agriculture.

Subjects discussed were the dramatic changes in farm management and technology over the past years, use of computer technology allowing return of instant data for analysis of soil, animal husbandry and education of better farming practices.    It was noted that Hart County is 6th in the State for agricultural output, 98% of farms are family owned and operated, and that 1 in 7 Georgians work in some type of agriculture related industry.  Farmers are the original “environmental land stewards” and remain so.  The need to educate young people in animal husbandry and agriculture production is necessary as farmers produce a needed staple, food, for a growing world population.

Following the panel discussion HCPOA board member, Mike Buckel, made a power point presentation of the Franklin County Ag Center built in 2000.  The overview described the physical plant and layout of their Ag Center including livestock & agriculture show building, classrooms, shop building, greenhouses, and open shade house.  Discussed were its uses in the community and how it was built and financed. ​ ​ ​ President Garry Hamilton advised that due to illness, County Commissioner Bill Myer’s discussion of ISO fire ratings in Hart County is postponed.

HIghlights for Meeting February 17, 2014

President Hamilton opened our meeting centered on part 2 of a 4 part series devoted to specific criteria expected to be pertinent to E-SPLOST IV.  This meeting would focus on CTAE, and a career technical agriculture building.  He introduced HCPOA education coordinator, Mike Buckel, to acquaint members with the purpose and aims of a CTAE program.

Mr. Buckel, using power point, explained the function of CTAE programs, especially those currently available at Hart County High School and those of Anderson, SC.  Hart High School has a full time director and most students participate in some portion of the 12 CTAE programs.  It appears the Hart program is under facilitated and less equipped with technical-vocational equipment.  The Anderson CTAE program, started in 1972, serves 4 high schools and has 18 technical programs.  Their CTAE program has a 98% “job ready” graduation rate and 70% of these students continue in some type of higher education.  The Anderson program encourages participation of business and grant assistance.  The Hart County school program sports a sound basis but would benefit from industrial and corporate partners as well as grant funds to expand programs and their facility.

The presentation concluded with the introduction of our guest speakers.  Ms. Dannette Smith, GA Dept. of Labor, Mr. Mike Jones, Lake Foods, and Mr. Bill Leard, HEMC.  They provided an analysis of employee skills needed in the business market.  Ms. Smith, Regional Coordinator, explained the “Georgia Best” program.  This program, developed with input from business leaders, features business ethics training with such “soft skills” as time management, business ethics, team management, punctuality and more.  It can be taught by current teachers in the classroom to improve student employability.

Mr. Mike Jones, of Lake Foods a new Hart County business, advised his need for Hart employees with technical expertise to use and maintain robotic machinery that employs water pressure to cut and size chicken for the poultry industry.  He confirms the need for skilled personnel with electrical-mechanical skills will continue to grow. ​

Mr. Bill Leard, HEMC, advised the need for a math and science proficient workforce to replace aging and mature workers.  The growth of solar and other energy efficient machinery will require a vastly different skill set and employees will need proficiency across a broader range of expertise.

Highlignts for Meeting March 17, 2014   

Vice President Fogerty began our meeting with a brief synopsis of the past November 2013 E-SPLOST ballot.  HCPOA recognized there was confusion in the community on the various aspects of E-SPLOST IV and our recent programs have addressed differing criteria pertinent to E-SPLOST IV.

HCPOA education coordinator, Mike Buckel, advised members of a March 11 meeting suggested by HCPOA to the BOE to form a coalition of community members representing differing subcommittees to define the needs of three new facilities to be funded by E-SPLOST revenue.  Topics studied were the AG Center, CTAE building, and the Health, Wellness multi-purpose building or commonly referred to as a gym.

HCPOA representative Rich Vandeventer participated in the AG Center committee and advised as our local economy is dependent on agriculture there are sound arguments for such a facility.  The next step is to define actual use needs such as an arena or kitchen and how to design this facility for those needs.  After this committee studies other regional AG centers and learns best use practices, a physical layout with price costs will be developed for our county.  A proposal complete with layout and constructions costs will be forwarded to the BOE for their review and funding plan.

Our next HCPOA representative, Ms.Dottie Williams, participated in the CTAE (Career Technical & Agriculture education) program development.  Ms. Williams identified the actual meaning of CTAE, the need to partner with a technical college, and apply for grant monies.  A comprehensive study needs to begin to determine which avenue the Hart County CTAE program should pursue and develop.  Success of CTAE programs in State high schools are determined by State of Georgia metrics from attendance, graduation rates, and test scores of participating students.  This committee intends to study other regional CTAE programs and develop a plan tailored to Hart County needs and goals.

Mike Buckel completed the discussion reporting on the health, wellness, multipurpose facility committee.  He reviewed the health of the current gym and its problems exasperated by poor building maintenance and advising of necessary repairs to eliminate water problems.  The reasons for a new gym were explored but advocating the need for a serious study to be undertaken to determine actual needs, size and location, as well as addressing if funding is available to execute scheduled and timely maintenance.

Each speaker answered general questions on each subject from members and Mr. Buckel briefly fielded a discussion on the status of retired school buildings such as the Airline School building.  Mike Buckel thanked the panel for their participation.

​ Highlights for Meeting  April 20, 2015

Mr. David Seagraves, CFO of Hart County Schools, presented a program on the status of the new high school construction projects since inception in August 2014.  Using copies of construction plans and visual aids, Mr. Seagraves expanded on several key points:        

A.  Hiring of a Construction Manager at Risk.
  The CM will collaborate with all parties involved in the project such as the architects, contractors and Hart County BOE officials hopefully eliminating design errors, cost overruns and minding project time tables. 

B.  Permitting for site work has been approved
.  A full set of site plans and permits are available to anyone on the BOE website. 

C.  Project time table to completion
is expected to be 2 school years and 3 summers.  Bid requests for site work will be issued in early May.  Requests for building bids are expected to be released this August.  He explained there will be 2 phases to the project:  destruction of existing buildings and the construction of the new wellness/gym and career college academy. 

D.  General Obligation Bonds.
$8.5 million in bonds have been sold at an interest rate of 1.3% to the school system to provide construction funding.  The school system will pay interest only during the construction phase, hopefully allowing them to incorporate some pay as they go procedures into the construction plan. These are short term bonds whose coupons become due in August 01, 2017 and 2018 at 3% and 2019 & 2020 at 4%.  He advised the financial plan as structured is expected to allow the county and school to be debt free at the end of the bond period. 

F.  Site Plan for new buildings improves security within the campus; parking will be safer and facilitate traffic flow.   Faculty members have had opportunities for input and all aspects of new construction including classrooms must meet all State of Georgia requirements and approval.

G.  Design of the Ag Center has not yet been finalized.  It will be a pre-engineered building and will not be included in the CM at Risk program.  It will be a general contractor and bid process governed by internal BOE and school management.

Mr. Seagraves answered members’ questions throughout his explanation of each construction topic and a lively discussion concluded his presentation.

Highlights for Meeting May 19, 2014

Guest speaker, Hartwell Mayor Brandon Johnson began by complimenting the city council members for their motivation and efforts to further Hartwell’s prosperity.  He recognized council members Bill Griggs and Tray Hicks for their work on various city projects.

Mayor Johnson outlined accomplishments of the last 5 months: 

1.  Establishment of a pro-business task force to engage business owners and implement their suggestions to further business growth.

2.  Implement ways to energize and grow downtown with measureable projects.

3.  Annexation of Swamp Guinea Restaurant and possible future annexation of Hartwell Marine by owners’ request. 

4.  AnMed project has experienced delays but is expected to begin and consist of specialty and diagnostic clinics and labs.

5.  A focus for Hartwell is to target family friendly events and venues rather than compete with the South Carolina exit one higher end conference center development.

Mayor Johnson addressed the issue of the city acquiring Hart State Park currently leased by the Corps to the State of Georgia.  He advised a feasibility study is underway to determine what the Park can support and development of enhancements.  Upon completion of the study, a lease can be negotiated with the Corps.  Councilman Hicks was complimented for pushing the city to have an interest in the park’s future.   He explained the issues of the “bond” liability that was taken out by the State of Georgia to build the ranger’s house noting it is now below $78,000.  He clarified the State of Georgia owns the bond and the State leases the property from the Corps.  Under Corps law, only a government entity can lease the property; the city of Hartwell can lease the property but cannot operate the park for profit.  They are allowed to generate sufficient revenue to cover expenses and maintenance related to the park.

Mayor Johnson and councilmen Griggs and Hicks answered member questions. ​

President Hamilton introduced the second focus of our meeting agenda by welcoming Rich Vandenventer, Dottie Williams, and Mike Buckel to update members on the work of the subcommittees studying the needs of the three new facilities to be funded by E-SPLOST revenue.

Rich Vandenventer advised on two significant AG center developments:

A.   The Board of education has a contract to purchase property on Bowman Hwy.  for the Ag Center.  Closing is expected to be within 30 days.  It is not confirmed but there may be an impediment as there is question to the proximity of 2 old closed landfills.  An environmental company will be engaged to determine any possible contamination hazard.

B. The AG Center working committee met for the second time to identify what features should be incorporated into the building.   ​

Dottie Williams is participating in the CTA or college career academy.  She defined several significant points:

A. The difference between a CCA or college career academy and a CTAE.  CTAE is an education program with career, technical and agricultural offerings as well as State of Georgia work force initiatives and is currently offered at Hart County high school.  A college career academy is a unique special partnership between a charter school system, business and industry and a local technical school.  Hart County will partner with Athens Tech.

B. Visit to 5 schools with college career academy programs; review of CTAE courses and requirements.  Reviewed a student and CAD program produced preliminary building design.  Funding of career academy is expected to be 2/3 from State of Georgia; 1/3 from Splost funds.

Mike Buckel reported on the health, wellness, multi-purpose facility.  ​ A. Visits to newly constructed gyms;  developed a preliminary building wish list determining that the “needs list” included a multi-purpose room; more space and seating.   ​ ​ ​

The committee members responded to questions and President Hamilton thanked the members for their updates and serving on these committees.

Highlights  for Meeting June 16, 2014​

Meeting focus: tax money expenditures relating to the school budget.  

Board member Mike Buckel spoke with members on Hart County Schools’ procurement practices, shortcomings in published policy; Georgia DOE recommended practices and lastly recommendations that HCBOE adopt a procurement policy in accordance with State of Georgia BOE guidelines. Mr. Buckel’s presentation expanded on the following key topics:

1.   Importance of taxpayers to be aware of school expenditures and procurement as 75% of property tax dollars or about $13 million /year is budgeted for school needs.  BOE responsibility to be a good steward of our property tax dollars as well as funds received from our State and Federal government as this is also our tax money. 

2.  Overview of current BOE procurement policy covering soliciting pricing, contracts and bids requests, and awarding of contracts;

3.  Examination of other Hart County Government agencies procurement policies versus the School Board procurement guidelines;

4.  State of Georgia DOE rules and guidelines for procurement procedures require that local units of administration comply with them.   State of Georgia guidelines encourage all school boards to implement and enforce transparent procurement policies in accordance with their BOE guidelines.   ​

Mr. Buckel concluded his program advising of the positive impact the HCPOA has had advising taxpayers of the Charter School system adoption and activity, public awareness of the SPLOST projects:  AG center, CTAE, and new gym, identified water drainage problems and lack of routine maintenance at school facilities, hazards of excessive SPLOST debt, establishment of working groups to develop needs analyses, design requirements and preliminary sketches and cost figures for SPLOST projects.  Mr. Buckel provided an opportunity to clarify and answer questions from the audience at the conclusion of his presentation.  

Dottie Williams, member of the College and Career Academy study group, advised her study group was to meet with architects to understand what can be built to meet with the Board specifications then develop a cost analysis.   

Mike Buckel advised members of a BBQ and business meeting at the high school gym on Tuesday, June 17, regarding CTAE programs and college career academy grant possibilities.  

Highlights for Meeting July 21, 2014

President Hamilton opened the meeting by introducing Board member, Mike Buckel. 

Mr. Buckel presented a program tailored to ESPLOST funding, Hart School’s plans, HCPOA recommendations, contingency planning, and finally a proposed wording for SPLOST.  He advised previous programs discussed the AG Center, CTAE program, College Career Academy and Wellness building or gym at length.   ​

Key points for taxpayers to consider are:  

-Taxpayer trust was betrayed by BOE and school spending on past SPLOST initiatives;

-SPLOST 2 took out 10-year bonds that required SPLOST-3 to pay off; and SPLOST-3 promised a rehabilitated gym, a new gym and an Ag Center, concluding taxpayer funding is not being used to support taxpayer interests.  

a.  Funding:  The expected revenues from SPLOST 4 should be near $12.5 million; but SPLOST revenue has been declining and could continue to fall.  

​ b.  A current construction plan has been determined by the school.  It is:  Debt reduced to $8.5M and contains a degree of pay-as-you-go; CCA/CTAE & Gym in a joined structure; No mention of rehabilitation of existing gym; yet an addition of cafeteria refurbishment; a construction start date of 2015; and AG Center Plan.​

c.  Possible problems identified are as follows: ·        

-Ag Center cost inflated by inclusion of a “classroom;” ·       

-No mention of how the Ag Community will participate; ·       

- Interest on the bonds at 3% is $664,032; and CCA grant money is uncertain; ·        

-Nothing budgeted for change orders/overruns/contingencies;​ ·       

- Nothing budgeted for demolition cost of existing CTAE building. ​ 

Hart County POA recommendations are: ​ ·  Limit initial debt to 1/3 of expected revenue. ·   Set construction priorities:

1.     Rehabilitate existing gym;

2.     Construct CCA/CTAE building;

3.     Establish AG Center;​ ​

4.     New gym as funding allows; and work on projects in sequence as funds permit.    

​ Dottie Williams, member of the College and Career Academy study group, posed several serious questions to members that need to be addressed.  They were:  will the new buildings and expenditures for staff and operations crowd out other needs; what might be sacrificed; conclusions were made to build new without exploring whether renovations would solve problems.  Her committee has not seen a breakdown of building costs, annual operating costs and how much they will increase the budget.  Ms. Williams stressed the need for broad business support.    ​  

Bill Fogerty briefly reported on lake issues.  He advised the Corps was weighing Duke Energy rules for its Oconee nuclear station to run with less water.  He noted information from the Anderson Independent Mail regarding the additional two reactors at Plant Vogtle could increase total water withdrawals to 200 million gallons daily.  ​  ​  

Member Jerry Hannekin addressed members about the possible fire dangers from “sky lanterns” which are mini hot balloons that contain fuel cells that produce a small flame.  

Highlights for Meeting  9/15/2014

Board Member Mike Buckel introduced the topic “Worrisome History of School Construction Programs in our Area”, which he and Treasurer Ritch Vandeventer presented.  

The study reviewed historical data dating from 1999 for 5 school districts of Elbert, Franklin, Hart, and Stephens Counties and Jefferson City in Jackson County.  Only verifiable facts were included in the study, which revealed the risks and unexpected problems that arise with very complex, large construction projects.  Some of the highlights included:

• In Stephens County, E-Splost and Bonds were issued in 2008 and 2009.  Construction delays, decreases in estimated sales tax collections, and monthly debt service costs of $250,000 which consumed much of the decreased sales tax collections, resulted in debt that will not be retired until 2017 – 5 years after occupancy.

• In Jefferson City’s current 2012-2017 E-Splost, early cost overruns forced the school system to prioritize their projects and utilize value engineering analysis to reduce costs. • In Franklin County, a 3-phase project in 1999 encountered unexpected construction problems, resulting in cost over-runs and delayed completion dates which impacted the entire year’s school schedule.

• In 2011 Elbert County prioritized and costed 6 projects, using value engineering and authorizing debt of only 55% of expected revenue.  Although a significant decrease in collections occurred, they adjusted the projects to the revenue collections, and the debt is expected to be paid off during the Splost term.

• Hart County has a history of large debt and substantial cost overruns from E-Splost 1, 2, and 3. 92% of Splost 3 revenue went to service debt.  At the end of the current Splost 3, the county will be debt free.  Mike & Ritch found Hart County spending data to be elusive and records sketchy, with Splost 2 data the most difficult to trace.  In contrast to Elbert County’s successful projects and on-time retirement of debt, Hart County’s projects are poorly or not defined, prioritized, designed, or budgeted; their revenue projections are optimistic; and projected debt is 2/3 of projected E-Splost revenue. In summary, the study demonstrates the need for Hart County to be flexible in their planning, to prioritize their projects, to be conservative on revenue estimates, and to provide accurate information for voters. ​ ​ Following the presentation, Mike took questions from the attendees, covering such topics as the absence of anything in the proposed E-Splost focused on increasing academic performance, the absence of site analysis information for the proposed construction projects, and the overall lack of planning exhibited.  In response to a question on HCPOA’s strategy to address the deficiencies in E-Splost planning, Mike replied that HCPOA’s goal is to delay passage in 2014, giving the county another year to complete the pre-planning necessary to define projects and present valid cost estimates.

 A summary of the current E-Splost deficiencies and HCPOA recommendations was at the front desk. ​

President Garry Hamilton thanked Mike and Ritch for the informative presentation and added that all published information regarding the proposed E-Splost 4 have omitted any mention of a Section 7, which automatically obligates property owners through millage increases for any unpaid balance of principal and interest on any existing bonds.

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 17, 2014 Meeting

Board Member, Mike Buckel, began the meeting by thanking everyone who supported the HCPOA efforts to inform the public of the November 2014 ESPLOST 4 ballot issues.  He advised HCPOA encourages the HC Board of Education to implement full transparency in all their policies and practices.  HCPOA will continue to observe BOE operations and advise the membership of new developments. Mike concluded with his introduction of our speaker, Dr. William Capie, Chairman of the Hart County Board of Assessors.

 Dr. Capie presented a program entitled Assessor’s Plan to review Lake Property.  He introduced Hart County Chief Appraiser Wayne Patrick and Shane Hix, Associate Chief Appraiser.  Dr. Capie began his program with a slide presentation of changes, accomplishments and problem resolution.  Digests for prior years were completed; billing issues were resolved, and regaining of public trust was paramount.  

 He continued explaining that Boards of Assessors use “mass appraisal.”  This means the use of “sets” of appraisals rather than individual properties.  To accomplish this, the Board developed a method to value sets of properties efficiently.  The purpose was to develop a data base that clearly defined lot data uniformly throughout the county.  Classifications for subdivisions of lake properties and rural lake lots were defined by class.  Lake subdivisions were identified and grouped by their class definition.  The main concept is to group similar parcels of property by use of class definitions and schedules to transition values uniformly.  Dr. Capie concluded by inviting Chief Appraiser, Wayne Patrick, to comment and answer any questions.

 Mr. Patrick advised the continuing development of a sound tool to base mass appraisal structure avoids large, unexpected assessment changes as have occurred in past years.  Reviews will be completed on a timely basis and should avoid any need to require an outside firm to do costly evaluations.  He advised his staff has revalued every year by taking sales for every land class of property and applying that information to achieve proper values.  He explained the purpose of better defining their schedules and documentation is to apply market changes properly.

 Mr. Patrick commended his team for their hard work and perseverance to make uniform and accurate assessments.   Dr. Capie stated he is proud they have regained public trust and their willingness to answer questions and solve problems.  Dr. Capie and Mr. Patrick concluded their presentation by answering questions and summing their commitment to better serve Hart property owners.

 President Hamilton thanked Dr. Capie, Mr. Patrick, and his team for their presentation and hard work to achieve positive changes in the assessment process.  He reminded members now is the time to advise the assessor’s office of any changes in their property.  This is done by completing a Return of Property form and submitting it to the Board of Assessors by April 01.