The Dawson County Board of Commissioners voted during a special called meeting last week to approve the 2017 county budget, which includes defunding the local development authority and approving raises for several positions.
The budget was approved following the second of two required public hearings.
The budget, which was presented by Chairman Mike Berg on Sept. 15, was approved after several changes were made by the board.
District 3 Commissioner Jimmy Hamby motioned to remove some of Berg's recommended funds and allocate more money to salaries and other areas.
The biggest change came with the commission's approval to defund the Development Authority of Dawson County, removing a recommended $150,000 allocation per Hamby's motion.
During the meeting, District 2 Commissioner James Swafford asked the other board members if there was a plan in place if the county stopped funding the development authority.
"How are we going to attract more business?" Swafford said.
Hamby said that the development authority could fund itself the same way that some surrounding authorities fund themselves -- independently of the county.
Charlie Auvermann, executive director of the development authority, has over the past few months come before the board several times to answer questions about a PILOT program bond agreement between the authority and Kroger, which has built a new marketplace store on Ga. 400.
The agreement allows Kroger to pay a graduated property tax rate in exchange for a commitment to remain in the county for 10 years, maintain a certain number of employees, maintain its old building until a new tenant can be found and remove the gas pumps at the old store, among other stipulations. The agreement was validated by Northeastern Judicial Juvenile Court Judge Allison Toller last December.
"My main goal was twofold: to keep Kroger here and not let them move, and to have a contract in writing that said they would be obligated to do something with the old Kroger building," Auvermann said at the Nov. 3 commission meeting. "Without the agreement they could have just left the building, and I don't want to see that happen on that vital corner [of Ga. 400 and Hwy. 53]."
Several of the county commissioners who brought up the bond during their regular meetings said they disagreed with the way the agreement was handled, particularly in that the bond was not presented to them or voted on by the commission.
According to Auvermann, the bond is a private taxable industrial revenue bond, and unlike public or manufacturing bonds, consent from the commissioners was not required for the agreement to take place.
Commission Chair Mike Berg said that there have been over a hundred similar PILOT agreements in the state this year, and that the money the development authority brings to the county should be the primary focus.
"We've only really got two entities of ours that make us any money in the county, and that's the chamber of commerce and the development authority," Berg said. "We've got an extra $2 million on our budget this next year because of all the business on Ga. 400 that the development authority brought in, so giving them $150,000 wouldn't be anything."
Berg said that he, like Swafford, had an issue with the funding being cut off all at once without any notice to the authority.
"My problem with that is that you are setting something in place where immediately there is not going to be a lot of time to graduate to self-funding," Berg said. "If I were in their place and if I knew last year that you weren't going to fund me this year, I'd make plans to try to recoup some dollars so that I could be self-sufficient. All at once is difficult."
The development authority did not receive funds in 2012 and 2013, and in 2014 they were funded at 50 percent.
In 2015 and 2016 they were allocated $150,000.
"Back then the county was in a hole with a lot of debt," Berg said. "The authority also had the funds to stay afloat. But right now they aren't equipped to stand on their own."
According to Auvermann, the authority received a letter of resignation in the mail on Monday from one of its board members, Charlie Tarver.
Tarver also resigned from the Industrial Building Authority of Dawson County and the county planning commission.
In his letter, Tarver cites the board's decision not to fund the authority in their 2017 budget as one of his reasons for leaving.
Development Authority Chairwoman Sherry Weeks said during the authority's Nov. 15 meeting that Tarver has been a long time member of the board and that he will be missed.
"He has been an asset to this board for 12 years," Weeks said. "He has served his county extremely well."
Auvermann declined to comment specifically on the commission's decision.
Hamby's motion also included several salary changes, all of which were approved by the board.
The changes include removing a proposed benefits specialist position, increasing the salary of the county human resources specialist, increasing the fleet director salary, reducing the public defender supplement, increasing the salary of the planning and development director, increasing the salary of the sheriff's chief deputy and moving two county IT employees from part-time to full-time staff.
After the list of changes was read, Swafford asked Hamby why he was proposing salary adjustments when a commissioned salary study was currently being conducted.
"I guess I'm not opposed to people getting paid for what they do, but one thing that bothers me about this is picking and choosing certain people to get a raise when we have 200 something people working for us and we're paying good money for a salary study," Swafford said.
The salary study, which compares what surrounding counties pay to what Dawson County employees are making, determines what the minimum, median and maximum pay amounts for employees should be.
The study is currently being conducted by The Archer Group, a consulting firm specializing in human resource management that conducted the county's 2014 salary study.
"I think we should hold off on the changing of these until we find out what the salary study says those amounts should be," Swafford said.
Hamby did not respond to Swafford's comments, and Swafford did not make a motion to amend the salary adjustments.
Berg said on Nov. 14 that he put $350,000 in the budget in anticipation of raises, and said that when the study is done that the commission will probably try to bring everyone up to at least the minimum amount.
District 4 Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix seconded Hamby's motion to enact the changes and it was passed 3-1, with Swafford dissenting.
Other changes included decreasing funds for No One Alone, removing recommended funds for the Good Shepherd Clinic, removing proposed funds for per-meeting stipends for the library, parks and recreation and development authority boards and increasing the amount allocated to the clerk of court's office.
The changes to the budget decreased spending by $168,951 and brings the total budget to just under $36 million.