Hart County Property Owners Association
Annual Report - 2013
2013 will be remembered as an active, interesting and productive year for your association. As always, our activities were focused on three areas: fair and equitable taxation, transparency and accountability in Government, and voter education. In the interest of brevity, this report will highlight the three issues that were the focus of most of our activity.
Lake Hartwell: After several years of severe drought,welcome rains slowly refilled Lake Hartwell and, as a result, some of the adverse effects experienced by lakeside home owners and local businesses were reversed. HCPOA realized early on that the underlying problems caused by low water levels still remained and needed to be corrected. So, working in support of Alan Powell, our State legislative representative, and with civic action groups along the Savannah River basin, both in Georgia and South Carolina, we were successful in drawing attention to the need for coordinated action. On September 18, numerous local, state, and federal officials, including the Governors of Georgia and South Carolina, gathered at Big Oaks Recreation Area on Lake Hartwell to address numerous issues related to the lake, including ways to stabilize water levels during drought conditions. Much work remains to be done in 2014 and beyond, specifically in Washington, DC, since the U S Congress is the only entity that has the authority to amend existing water management guidelines used by the Corp of Engineers to control water levels on Lake Hartwell. We’ll let you know what transpires as developments occur.
Hart County School System: We greatly expanded our coverage of School Board and School System activities this year. The most pressing issue was a plan by the Board to place an item on the November 2013 ballot asking for voter approval of a new five year Special Local Option Sales Tax for Education (SPLOST-4) to begin on January 1, 2015. Proceeds from SPLOST-4 were to be used to fund acquisition of $12M in new fixed assets for the Hart County High School. The ballot wording indicated that the Board of Education (BOE) would include building a new gymnasium, a new Agricultural Center, and a new Career/Technology/Agricultural building but there was no priority established and no guarantee that they would be built (noted by the absence of the command word ‘shall’). We took exception to the wording but the BOE would not promise to build any specific buildings or to prioritize the order in which they would be built. In addition, they offered no substantiating evidence (needs analysis, cost benefit analysis, building plans, cost estimates, etc.) to validate the need or projected cost for the new buildings. Finally, the financing plan involved borrowing a large amount of money in advance of construction which would have entailed a major interest expense. HCPOA took the public position that we did not object in principle to the buildings identified in the ballot, but we could not support approval of SPLOST-4 until the Board was firmly committed to a specific, prioritized construction plan backed up with hard analysis justifying the expenditure. The ballot initiative failed to pass and SPLOST-4 was not approved. Our discussions with the Board of Education are continuing and we hope to resolve these issues over the coming months. Another vote is likely in November 2014 and we hope the Board will agree to provide the commitments and back-up data needed to validate their request.
Voter Education: Of all the things we do, this may be the most important. On the third Monday of every month, with the exception of December, we hold a membership meeting in the basement of the Hart County Library to review the status of HCPOA’s recent activities and to invite representatives from other organizations to speak on topics of timely interest. A sample of our speakers and their topics is shown below:
Hart County Tax Commissioner Property tax situation
District Attorney, North Georgia Circuit Backlog of court cases
Guest Panel Economicimpact of fluctuating lake level
Guest Panel Charter School System options
Mark Wiles, Georgia Forrestry Commission Firewise Program
Mike Buckel/Paul Abernathy Education SPLOST-4 referendum
American Legion Representative Post 109 Activities
Summary Presentation Savannah River Basin Caucus
In addition to these formal presentations, members of the Board of Assessors, Board of Education, and County Commissioners frequently attended and participated in the Q&A sessions that are an integral part of our meetings. The exchange between members and guests is usually spirited and informative. Attendance at every meeting is open to the general public and everyone is invited to join in the conversation.
Finally, in addition to the activities highlighted above, your HCPOA representatives regularly attended Board of Education, Board of Assessors, and County Commissioner’s meetings. Also, we placed ads in the Hartwell Sun whenever the Executive Board felt it necessary to comment on issues important to our community. One of our Board members even made an appearance on the local TV program “Backtalk Live” to explain our position on Education SPLOST-4.
All-in-all, it was quite a busy year for your HCPOA. There is every indication that 2014 will be just as challenging…and just as much fun as 2013. Come volunteer your services. We need all the talent, experience, and smarts that our members have to offer. Our community needs you!
By Ritch Vandeventer for Executive Board of HCPOA