When the board of commissioners approved the triennial budget for 2017 in November, they made a decision to defund the only solely development-focused entity the county has.
The $150,000 that the board has, for the past two years, given to the Development Authority of Dawson County to continue its efforts in planned development and growth for the county was not allocated in this year's budget. This means the development authority has had to find other means of funding its operations and projects, which the board discussed at its Jan. 31 meeting.
There are a few ways that the authority could generate its own revenue.
The authority has the power to sell property, issue bonds, receive SPLOST proceeds and tax citizens.
During the meeting, Executive Director Charlie Auvermann said that right now the authority is entertaining no new prospective agreements and has no plans to sell any of its properties.
County voters would have to decide if they wanted to be taxed, and there will not be another SPLOST to pull from for a number of years.
"[The chairman] and I have talked about it quite a bit, the different options that are open," Auvermann said. "Most of those options work well with development authorities the size of those in Gwinnett and Dekalb, but in a small county of 23,000 it is extremely difficult to self-fund unless you are either on the SPLOST initiative, or some structure like that...without the financial support and I think leadership support of the county commission, it's going to be extremely difficult to proceed much longer than this year."
That leaves only one option left to the development authority at present.
According to its 2017 budget, the authority has so far planned to pull $146,136 out of the accounts for the industrial building authority, a sort of sister organization to the development authority, throughout the year.
According to Charlie Auvermann, executive director of the authority, with approximately $40,000 left in the industrial building bank account, the transfers will be a stop-gap effort to keep the development authority running.
His latest projections predict the development authority won't be able to operate past the end of 2017 without funds from the county.
He remains optimistic, however.
"The county can restore the funding at any time they want to," Auvermann said. "Who knows what will happen this year."
The meeting's main focus was to review the budget, decide what expenses should be made and where, and approve it.
The authority's 2016 budget included total income of $209,920, including the $150,000 from the county.
Other revenue came from the chamber of commerce renting their building, and from other programs and bond fees.
This year's budget is not far behind, with $179,556 at the authority's disposal. However, it's what they plan to do with the money that has changed quite a bit.
No money has been allocated for advertising and promotion, projects, website development, conferences or seminars.
In 2016, nearly $45,000 was allocated in those categories.
This is not the first time the county has decided not to fund the development authority.
Post-recession the county dropped the authority's funding, giving them nothing in 2012 and 2013, and $75,000 in 2014.
The county restored the funding in 2015 after the economy began to improve.
"We didn't like it but we kind of understood it when there was a recession and everybody was tightening their belt, but now it is not a recession and everything you see out there [Auvermann] has had a hand in it," said Sherry Weeks, chair of the authority's board. "Every single thing that we have, [Auvermann] has had a strong hand in it and in many cases it would not have happened except for Charlie Auvermann."
So far the board's decision not to fund has not been met with any new ideas on what could be done in the place of the authority.
Many development authority members are frustrated by the lack of a plan.
"In a discussion that I had with a couple of the commissioners they expressed interest in our getting our name out there so to speak," Weeks said during a discussion about the amount of sponsorship and advertising the board would be comfortable spending with the chamber of commerce. "We have not been given money by the board of commissioners. I find it kind of ironic that it seems like everyone wants us to be out there doing things but we don't have any money to do it with. I'm very frustrated by that."
Weeks also said she was frustrated with the fact that new board members will be appointed this year by commissioners, and that they will require training at the expense of the authority.
"The training that we're going to have to provide for people that are coming in, that's terrific, but I think if it's training for people that are coming in, and if they chose to not reappoint some of the people that we have, then I think we should ask for training money from the board of commissioners," Weeks said. "They're putting on new people for us and yet they're not giving us the money to train them properly."
The commission's work session agenda for Thursday includes the presentation of new board appointments to the development authority. All are being considered for terms that begin in February and end in December 2020.
Those considered will be Mike Ball, Brian Trapnell (replacing Dan Tennant), Steven Melching (replacing Tom Alexander), Anthony Passarello (replacing Peter Hill) and Calvin Byrd (replacing Charlie Tarver).
District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines said he could not speak for the entire board, but wanted to assure the authority that he personally believes in their mission.
"We have to find a way to move forward in providing the resources that this organization needs to do the job that you've set out to do," Gaines told the authority during its meeting.
Gaines said that the immediate challenge in front of the commission is to appoint qualified candidates to the board, and that he understands the issues with training and funding.
"It's my goal to be a way to support you. That's the way I feel about it, again I'm one of many, my challenge is to be able to reiterate the positive things that you guys do as a board...I wasn't here when the defunding happened, I wasn't here when a lot of these things happened, but I'm here to look towards the future to figure out how to make things work and to figure out how to open lines of communication that we can all move Dawson County forward in development," Gaines said.