Commission meets with assessors
By Carol McLeod
On Friday, April 18, the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners met with the county’s Board of Assessors to discuss the results of a performance review of the BOA conducted recently.
The review, which began in January, had been requested by the commissioners to address issues the county has had meeting certain standards with the tax digest. A consent order from the Georgia Department of Revenue was signed by the commissioners this month. According to Jefferson County Administrator Paul Bryan, a response from the DOR has not been received yet.
Prior to that meeting, the commissioners, county attorney Mickey Moses and Bryan met at the White Columns Inn in Thomson. That meeting, which took place Monday, March 31, was held in order to discuss the results of the DOR performance review and consent order, Bryan said.
“We chose to meet in that manner to allow each individual to forthrightly discuss the issues covered in each document,” Bryan said.
“It was a very informative meeting, as is expected. Each person had a different insight and a different opinion of what the documents meant. No votes were taken, nor was a consensus discussed. It was only an information sharing meeting. Prior to this meeting, it was a belief that a meeting had to be held with the Board of Assessors to discuss the issues. Additionally, no county funds were used,” he said.
Although this meeting may have been held with the best interests of the county in mind, The News and Farmer / The Jefferson Reporter contends that this meeting violated the state’s Sunshine law, which requires meetings of elected officials to be open to the public.
The April 18 meeting was held publicly with due notification. In it commissioners and members of the county’s BOA discussed various issues arising from the performance review.
Commission Chairman William Rabun opened the meeting and said, “This meeting is to discuss the consent order and determine what part the commissioners play and what part the Board of Assessors play.”
The county’s chief appraiser, George Rachels, said there are two classes members of the BOA must take within the first year after they are appointed to the board. This is to familiarize the board members with laws and regulations on how to conduct the business of the board.
“You have to take the first class within 180 days,” Rachels said. The classes are 40 hours and conclude with a test, which requires a minimum of 80 to pass, he said.
The first test may be retaken within three months if the result is at least a 70. However, Rachels said if the first test is still not passed or if the second test is not passed, the person cannot remain on the board.
Bryan stated that it costs about $3,000 per person for the foundation courses. This includes room and board for the week and $160, the cost of the class.
Rachels said there are seven people on his staff in the tax assessor’s office, “including me,” he said.
Rachels said four are appraiser ones and two have passed the appraiser two level. There is only one appraiser three, he said.
“No one is ready yet to be at the next level,” he said.
“What could the commission do to make this better for the Board of Assessors?” Bryan asked.
One member of the Board of Assessors said the county could establish a pay scale for the staff in the assessor’s office.
“It’s been done,” Bryan said. “We’ve done a study. We’re in line with other counties. We’re not in line with all of them. We’re not at the top.
“I want to make it clear – Are you saying that salary is the only issue for employee retention?”
“That is the biggest issue,” Rachels said.
Commissioner Gonice Davis told Rachels the commissioners had complied with every request from his office except increasing salaries. Rachels agreed.
Commissioner Johnny Davis pointed out that, according to the perforamcne review, there is adequate staff in the tax assessor’s office.
Rabun asked Rachels if the number of staff in his office is adequate. Rachels said yes.
“What you’re telling the board is if you could retain your employees you wouldn’t have any problems,” Rabun said, referring to a request Rachels has made in the past for salary increases for his staff.
“We can’t be held to employees saying we’re going to leave if we don’t get more money,” Gonice Davis said.
“There should be consideration given to the training the staff has to take,” Rabun said.
Rachels said a computer has been added for public use, a suggestion made in the performance review.
The commissioners discussed having a locksmith look at the office’s vault to determine what will be needed to fit it with a lock in order to keep back up files secure.
Regarding the countywide revaluation, the 2009 tax digest for Wrens and Louisville is complete, Rachels said. “We’re working on Wadley, residential,” he said.
Rabun asked if the tax digest would be sent in by August. Rachels said he might have to ask for a 30-day extension.
According to the consent agenda, which the commissioners signed last month, if the county complies with everything required by it the DOR will waive the more than $66,000 assessed against the county.
The work of local artists, and those with ties to Jefferson County, will be on display throughout the week at The Fire House Gallery in downtown Louisville. The work is part of the Arts Guild of Jefferson County's sixth annual spring exhibit, which opened this past weekend. The show featured more than 200 pieces of artwork by 29 artists. Students from Louisville Academy (at right) will be visiting the exhibit all week.
JCHS gets most out of grant money
By Faye Ellison
Jefferson County High School received a grant in the late fall of 2005 to help encourage enrollment in their advanced placement classes. JCHS was just one of nine schools to receive the grant in the state of Georgia.
The high school’s students are performing so well in the advanced placement classes since the application of grant funds, that JCHS ranks sixth out of 49 high schools across six states who received the grant.
“This is remarkable progress and shows that contrary to popular thinking, Georgia’s high school students are hungry for more challenging classes,” David Wakelyn, senior policy analyst for the National Governor’s Association, said.
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According to Kathleen Mathers, director of External Relations with the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement who administered the grant, said overall enrollment in all the states are up, including an overall increase of 48 percent for low income students.
Mathers said the state of Georgia has the highest increase in students being enrolled in advance placement classes. Other states to receive the grant were Alabama, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada and Wisconsin.
The grant was given by the National Governor’s Association to be administered for through the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. Jefferson County received $44,590 to be spent over two years to boost advance placement student enrollment, course offerings and teacher training opportunities. The high school began receiving money in January of 2006 and will finish spending the money obtained from the grant at the end of this school year.
“At that time, they will submit a final report highlighting how the grant helped them improve their advanced placement program,” Mathers said.
In addition, the eight other high schools in Georgia that received funding were Bainbridge High School in Decatur, Duluth High School in Gwinnett County, Union Grove High School in Henry County, Lowndes High School, Mary Persons High School in Monroe County, Morgan County High School, Rockdale County High School and Stephens County High School.