Valdosta Daily Times

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March 1, 2014

Commissioners discuss tax assessor legislation during day two of retreat

VALDOSTA — The second and final day of the Lowndes County Commission retreat brought about positive discussion of many county policies, including the Tax Assessor’s Legislation.

Currently, Lowndes County is the only county in the state to have Tax Assessors elected by the public; other counties have voted to appoint their Tax Assessors.

Lowndes County Chairman Bill Slaughter said, “Lowndes County is the only county to elect their Assessor, and I want to open it up for discussion, but keep in mind, this won’t be acted on until next year.”

For this process to change, the Board of Commissioners would have to vote on the item,  the Georgia Constitution must be amended by a local act of the General Assembly, and finally the item would have to be approved by the voters.

Commissioner John Page adamantly stands in opposition to appointed tax assessors. “Of all of the things people have direct voting power over, they should have the power to elect the people that place the value on their land. The argument is that appointed assessors take the politics out of the system, but I fear that it adds politics to the system, and it could create a good ol’ boy system,” he said.

“From my standpoint when you approach it from the democratic side, I don’t see a reason why the people couldn’t vote on it,” responded Commissioner Demarcus Marshall. “If they want it, then they can vote on it, and change it.”

“If the people vote to approve it, then that’s their right,” Page said.

The County Commission decided to make this a short term goal.

Slaughter said, “We really need to take the time to do our homework, and to get the pros and cons, is there a benefit to the citizens of Lowndes County to have elected assessors, or appointed assessors. We could get input from other counties, from our own assessors, and the citizens.”

The commission is going to review their options and check back on the Tax Assessor issue at a later date.

Lowndes County will be participating in National County Government Month this April, and this year’s theme is “Ready and Resilient Counties: Prepare, Respond, Thrive.”

Some of the events will include: Lowndes County Fire Department Drill Field Demo, 911 Media Tour, Animal Shelter Open House and Pet Adoption Event, Public Works Open House, and Emergency Management Agency CodeRed Test Call and Continuity of Business Workshop.

The commissioners added three items to the month long celebration list: first, to present at local schools to let students know about the functions of county government; second, to invite a few aspiring students to be a commissioner for a day; and third, to hold a reception inviting the former commissioners and former members of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG).

The goal for this day is for Lowndes County to promote their government programs and services.

A small, but significant service Lowndes County provides is their website. County Clerk Paige Dukes informed the commission that the County is partnering with CivicPlus, a company that develops and maintains websites.

The County’s current website is approximately seven years old, and it is so antiquated that many of its original functions have stopped working. The partnership with CivicPlus will provide the county with an extremely user friendly site, one that can be easily navigated by citizens, and will be easier to control, maintain, and update.

Some of the items that could go on the website, and be beneficial to the community include putting the licensing, permits, and fee information on the new website.

At the retreat, the commissioners agreed that in a perfect world, the county’s licensing, permits, and fees, would be revenue neutral.

Dukes showed the commissioners a spread sheet listing the county’s licensing, permits, and fees and said, “We try to focus on a revenue neutral environment, but some of these columns (columns of fees) haven’t been updated since 1994.”

She then explained how this lag in updates has cost the county, for instance, the County’s pet adoption fee has not been updated since 2007, and the county loses $5 a dog and $3 a cat due to their pet adoption fees.

Dukes enthusiastically supports pet adoption, but is concerned about losing money on the adopting process, and advised it should become a revenue neutral fee.

The county agreed to review at their licensing, permits, and fee to make then revenue neutral, but do so in a way that still attracts businesses to Lowndes County.

Attracting businesses and residents to the county can be difficult, but the Commissioners plan to attract businesses by looking at their Local Opportunity Zones, and plan to attract people by improving the county’s gateways.

The Local Opportunity Zones are lower income areas in the county trying to attract businesses by offering incentives.

A gateway is the first thing people see when they come into Lowndes County, and the commissioners want to make that entrance as appealing as possible.

“The sign doesn’t have to be at the county line, just near it, to let people know they are welcomed, and we’re glad to have them in Lowndes County,” Slaugher said. “I want Lowndes County to have her best dress on and look her best for visitors.” Dukes jokingly replied, “If you give me the money, chairman, I’ll take her shopping.”

The final items discussed during the retreat were the long term goals the commissioners want to accomplish for Lowndes County.

Chairman Slaughter said he will work in coordination with the City of Valdosta to bring a fiber broadband internet system to the county within five years.

He also requested the county continue to appoint qualified people to boards and authorities.

Commissioner Crawford Powell wants the commission to determine if there are services that could be contracted to outside vendors to save the taxpayers money.

Commissioner Demarcus Marshall proposed to look at the county’s sanitation contract because he thought ADS has drifted from the sanitation contract when it comes to recyclables and reporting; he also wanted a back up plan for whatever the ruling my be regarding the Deep South Sanitation conflict. He also wanted staff to look for ways to improve the county’s Fire Department’s response time.

Commissioner Raines requested to work in synchronicity with parks and recreation authority and the tourism authority to recruit a minor league team (either baseball or soccer) to the area, by 2024.

Commissioner Joyce Evans wanted to meet with other officials to see how the county can enhance its economic growth and beautification to increase the quality of life of the county’s residents.

Commissioner Page requested the commission examine its existing building space to make sure they are utilizing tax payers dollars in the best way.

The Commission adjourned and went into executive session to discuss personnel matters.

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