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Chairman delivers state of the county address
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Mike Berg

Business revenues in Dawson County are down 4 percent, but LOST and SPLOST sales tax revenues are up 5 to 6 percent, according to Dawson County Commission Chair Mike Berg.

Berg made his annual state-of-the-county address on Thursday, Aug. 8, to members and guests of the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce. The event was hosted by the chamber and held at the Peach Brandy Cottage in downtown Dawsonville.

On the business side, the Dawson County Development Authority, led by Charlie Auvermann, has done an excellent job attracting businesses to the area, Berg said, noting the sale of a 102-acre tract to Blanchard Real Estate for developing a 350,000-square-foot retail "power center."

"They have a contract for one big box," Berg said. "And they think they will have a contract for another and five to seven mid-sized businesses all retail have signed contacts. That's created a buzz in that community, and that's great for us."

While Berg did not go into details, he did say the county and Blanchard have been working together to help determine the future of the 102-acre parcel.

"I hope you'll be pleasantly surprised in what our joint thinking is," he said.

David Wishen, principal with Blanchard Real Estate Capital, said his group is still hammering out details with a handful of prospective tenants.

Sales Tax Revenues

The Dawson County government received $55 million through a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST-5), passed by voters in November 2007. SPLOST-6 is expected to bring $60 million to the county over five years.

"By May 2015, we'll be right at $1.5 million in debt," Berg said. "I hope you appreciate the work the county has done. ... Not many counties in the state can say that. We will have paid for a new courthouse, fire stations, recreation, annex buildings, and quite a few other things. It's something to be proud of."

Berg also noted that 71 to 72 percent of revenues for Dawson County services come from people outside the county who shop at the outlet mall.

Additionally, based on an agreement reached between county and city officials, revenues from SPLOST 6 will be split 88/12, with the city receiving 12 percent, or approximately $1.4 million each year for five years. The city did not receive any money from SPLOST 5.

"I know that's been a bone of contention with past folks and James (Mayor James Grogran)..., but SPLOST 6 will be a different story." The agreement is for 10 years.

Other items addressed during the luncheon included two pieces of legislation. One focused on sludge application, with a bill to be introduced by House Rep. Kevin Tanner asking the EPD to recognize land use and zoning as criteria before considering application permits. The other bill would address sales tax collection. Berg recommends the department of revenue use addresses to determine where sales tax revenues go, rather than postal zip codes. Sen. Steve Gooch will carry a bill to the senate.

Road Expenses

The board of commissioners soon will have to decide whether to keep Etowah River Road open or to close it, Berg said. Part of the road was washed out in May when the county was hit with 6.5 inches of rain in eight hours. With a keep-open price tag of approximately $500,000, and another $250,000 to finish fixing a sinkhole near the new Dunkin Donuts location, roads are one of the biggest county expenses.

"Roads can't be paid for out of pocket," Berg said. "We have to collect money for a specific period of time."

Other road projects include Carlisle and Whitmire roads near Highway 400.

And, in April 2014, the split interchange project at Highway 400 and 53 is scheduled to begin. At an estimated cost of $12.5 million, the county is fortunate to not be paying for it, Berg said.

"The Appalachian Regional Fund is paying for it," Berg said. The project is expected to take 18 months to complete and will affect businesses and traffic in the area.

"It beats the heck out of an overpass or an underpass, but once completed, it will help us," he said.

Budget

The board of commissioners does not expect a tax increase this year or in 2015, but 2016 may be different.

"We haven't had a millage increase in nine years," Berg said. "So, from a budget standpoint, we'll be the same in 2015, which is flat, but we'll increase in 2016 maybe 5 percent."

Berg plans to recommend to the board of commissioners the same budget as last year $20.8 million. He said there will be no furloughs, and that a salary study be conducted.

"There's no surprises in our budget," he said. "If you look at what we experienced where property taxes are concerned in (the past) five years, we reduced our revenue intake by 35 percent that's a couple million dollars it's tough for a small community to make up, so we've got work to do."

See complete budget story, pg.