Towns County Courthouse renovations on the way

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HIAWASSEE, Ga – Now that the new SPLOST tax passed, Towns County’s courthouse renovation can officially begin. Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw took a moment to speak about the new project at the June county meeting.

“I want to thank the Towns County Citizens for passing the SPLOST and Freeport Tax,” said Bradshaw.

Taxes didn’t increase with the passage of SPLOST; everything remains at seven percent.

“Now we can bring our courthouse up to date, not only in looks but the function of the courthouse,” Bradshaw added.

Bradshaw explained the architect’s plans during the first regularly scheduled meeting since March.

The bulk of the money will be spent on the interior of the current courthouse. They will gut the building to bring it up to code and add an offset to the back. The entire process should take around 18 months.

“The addition on the back will be courtrooms, holding cells, a judge’s office. It will be three courtrooms – two at 120 capacity and one at 60. The one at 60 will be the probate judge,” Bradshaw explained to the room.

Bradshaw and the architects went through several rounds of drawings before deciding on the final layout. Once the architects found drawings of the original courthouse, they incorporated its style into the add-on. The concept will break up the square box look and incorporate darker brick against the light brick.

“They will gut everything out of this building – the wiring, the plumbing, the heating and air, the windows. Everything will be new, more energy-efficient, and I can get Margie and Brooke out of the closet in our office.”

The new building will also create a commissioner’s conference room.

Rendering of the renovated courthouse.

The current plan is to build the new addition first and let everyone move that building. The commissioner’s office might move into the civic center. The exact details are still to be determined. After the completion of the addition, construction crews should take another nine months to finish renovating the existing courthouse.

The process will take longer than normal, but the county is saving money because it won’t have to rent trailers, sewer, internet, etc.

Around $500,000 of SPLOST funds will go to the road department and $140,000 for the recreation department.

Commissioner Bradshaw thanked everyone for passing SPLOST and the Freeport tax exemption.

Freeport Exemption

The Freeport Tax will put Towns County on an equal footing with surrounding counties as far as job creation is concerned.

“It will help our businesses in the future for the employees to have job creation because it will save them money on their taxes on their raw materials. It does open the door for a business to start here because we’re equal to every other county and if we put on a better sales pitch, we’ll get ‘em,” Bradshaw explained.

Around 93 percent of Georgia counties have adopted a Level One Freeport Exemption, which can be set at 20, 40, 60, 80, or 100 percent of the inventory value. According to the state of Georgia, t can apply to the following types of property:

  • Inventory of goods in the process of being manufactured or produced including raw materials and partly finished goods;
  • Inventory of finished goods manufactured or produced within this State held by the manufacturer or producer for a period not to exceed 12 months;
  • Inventory of finished goods on January 1 that are stored in a warehouse, dock, or wharf which are destined for shipment outside this State for a period not to exceed 12 months;
  • Stock in trade of a fulfillment center which on January 1 are stored in the fulfillment center.

Courthouse renovation plans begin to form

News
Towns County Courthouse

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – As previously reported, the Towns County Courthouse, constructed in 1964, could be getting a much-needed facelift should the SPLOST referendum pass on the May 19 ballot. Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw is consulting with the architectural firm  Clark Patterson Lee who was hired to sketch the blueprints for the modernized design. The renovation cost, derived solely from SPLOST funds, is expected to amount to approximately $8 million. Because the Towns County Board of Education ESPLOST is set to expire this year, implementing a county SPLOST will not increase the current 7-percent sales tax.

Click to read: SPLOST to appear on spring ballot

Towns County Courthouse

The lower level of the aged Towns County Courthouse.

Preliminary ideas include transforming the present courtroom into additional office space while constructing a new full-sized and a smaller courtroom. “A lot of times we have court here and have to have court across the street at the civic center,” Bradshaw explained. “We’re also talking about doing a sally port because the grade of the property back here goes downhill and it’s a great place to do a basement type.” The commissioner added that holding cells for prisoners awaiting court will be installed.

“There’s many things that they’re looking at doing to make the courthouse more efficient, as far as energy-efficient goes, and safety to make it safer,” Bradshaw said. “We’ve got these (courtroom) side doors, here and here, that back in the day were fine to use. People come and go as they want but those days, unfortunately, they are gone.”

Handicap-assessable restrooms, as well as a family restroom, is also in the plans.

Towns County Courthose

The present county courtroom.

“The $8 million is what we’re looking to spend on the additions and renovation of the courthouse. They think they can do all of our needs for that plus additional parking,” Bradshaw said. The blueprints are expected to be completed in approximately five weeks, and a minimum of two County Hall meetings will be held with different renovation options. “Everything we do, we’re going to involve the public in it,” Bradshaw assured.

SPLOST to fund $8M courthouse renovation

SPLOST to fund $8M courthouse renovation

News
Towns County SPLOST

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – A Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SLOST) decision is set to appear before the Towns County voters on the May 19 general primary ballot. Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw announced plans for the “conservative figure” of $12 million in anticipated revenue, generated over six years, should the SPLOST referendum pass.

Click to read: SPLOST to appear on spring ballot

Commissioner Bradshaw told FYN on Feb. 10, that $8 million of the SPLOST revenue will be applied toward the renovation of the Towns County Courthouse. Bradshaw said that he consulted with several architects before deciding on the firm, Clark Patterson Lee, a New York-based company with offices located throughout the southeast. The firm was selected to draft a “concept drawing” to present to the citizens in a series of upcoming Town Hall meetings. Contracting the company into the construction management stage, however, will not take place before the passage of May’s vote. Should the plan progress, Bradshaw said that the construction process itself would be put out for bid. Qualification will be the premier consideration, followed by cost.

Towns County Courthouse

Towns County Courthouse

Bradshaw is scheduled to meet with the architectural firm on Thursday, Feb. 13, when surveyors visit the courthouse to take measurements and photographs of the aged structure.

“I spoke with all of the judges and elected officials in the courthouse and asked them to put into writing their suggestions,” Bradshaw told FYN, Feb. 10. “All of the suggestions were the same; a holding cell for court prisoners, an additional, smaller courtroom, handicap-accessible restrooms, a family restroom, and a secure hall for the judges to enter and exit the building.”

Additional SPLOST revenue will be divided as follows:

  • Roads/Bridges: $600,000
  • Towns County Fire & Rescue: $500,000
  • Parks/Recreation: $140,000

Funds allocated for the fire department will be used primarily to update emergency vehicles, Bradshaw said, and the amount budgeted for roads and bridges will provide necessary equipment for the road department. Upgrades and repairs, such as fencing material, may be needed for local parks and recreation.

The cities of Hiawassee and Young Harris, who have opted to benefit from the special-purpose tax, will each receive an estimated one million, eighty thousand dollars in revenue over the six-year course if the voters pass the May 19 referendum.

SPLOST is an optional one-percent sales tax levied by a county to fund the construction of parks, schools, roads, and other public facilities.

 

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Freeport Tax Exemption to appear on May ballot

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Freeport tax exemption

HIAWASSEE, Ga.- A referendum that could ease the tax burden for local business owners will appear on the May 19 general primary ballot. Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw informed FYN last year that it was an option that he was considering in expectation of attracting economic development to the area. The formal decision to include the question on the spring ballot was announced last week during a special-called meeting. If approved by the voters, the referendum will allow business owners to store merchandise and production supplies in their shops, tax-free, for a year’s time.

As of Jan. 1, 2016, business inventory became exempt from state property taxes.  According to Georgia.org, nearly all (93 percent) of Georgia’s counties and over 140 of its cities have adopted a Level One Freeport Exemption, set at 20, 40, 60, 80 or 100 percent of the inventory value.

Towns County opted for a 100-percent exemption.

A Level One Freeport Exemption may exempt the following types of tangible personal property:

  • Inventory of goods in the process of being manufactured or produced including raw materials and partly finished goods
  • Inventory of finished goods manufactured or produced in Georgia held by the manufacturer or producer for a period not to exceed 12 months
  • Inventory of finished goods on January 1 that are stored in a warehouse, dock, or wharf that are destined for shipment outside of Georgia for a period not to exceed 12 months

If approved, application for Freeport Exemption should be made with the Board of Tax Assessors within the same time period that returns are due in the county.

In addition to Freeport Exemption, Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw requested that the Board of Elections include a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) referendum on the May ballot.

SPLOST is an optional one percent county sales tax used to fund capital outlay projects proposed by the county government and participating qualified municipal governments. In general, county and municipal governments may not use SPLOST proceeds for operating expenses or maintenance of a SPLOST project1 or any other county or municipal facility or service. SPLOST is levied in what the law refers to as a “special district,” which is comprised of the entire territory of the county calling for the SPLOST. By using special districts, the revenue of a county tax
can be constitutionally shared with participating municipalities. The tax is imposed when the board of commissioners – or in the case of Towns County, the sole commissioner – calls a local referendum (i.e., vote)  and the referendum is subsequently passed by the voters within the county.

SPLOST to appear on spring ballot

News
Towns County SPLOST

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw requested that the Board of Elections include a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) referendum on the May 19, 2020 primary ballot.

“The school’s SPLOST tax runs out in October…,” Bradshaw said last week. “Ours will pick up when theirs cuts out, when theirs ends. So there would be no increase on taxes from what it is right now. And the reason we’re asking for the SPLOST tax is to remodel this courthouse and possibly do an addition on it because all of the judges since I have been here have come in and actually told me you all need to do some work here at the courthouse. We’re not handicapped compliant, and there’s several other reasons as you can look around and see. We just need to be updated.

Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw

Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw

“Also, we would use the money for the fire department to upgrade some of our fire trucks and things like that. Also for our road department to upgrade their equipment. It’s been many, many years since we replaced any of the dump trucks. our backhoe or sidearm machine that mow your banks and things like that. And then we’d also put in there for parks and rec. We might need to do some fencing and things like that at Foster Park.”

Additionally, the City of Hiawassee scheduled a special-called meeting for Monday, Jan. 27 at 6 pm, immediately preceding the council’s regular work session. “It will begin with a special-called meeting to discuss and vote on the SPLOST Referendum and the Fluoride Resolution,” Hiawassee City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick told FYN.

Click for City of Hiawassee fluoride archives

SPLOST is an optional one percent county sales tax used to fund capital outlay projects proposed by the county government and participating qualified municipal governments. In general, county and municipal governments may not use SPLOST proceeds for operating expenses or maintenance of a SPLOST project1 or any other county or municipal facility or service. SPLOST is levied in what the law refers to as a “special district,” which is comprised of the entire territory of the county calling for the SPLOST. By using special districts, the revenue of a county tax
can be constitutionally shared with participating municipalities. The tax is imposed when the board of commissioners – or in the case of Towns County, the sole commissioner – calls a local referendum (i.e., vote)  and the referendum is subsequently passed by the voters within the county.

The tax is collected on items subject to the sales and use tax within the county. The SPLOST is also imposed on the sale of food and nonalcoholic beverages, which are not subject to the state sales tax, and is also imposed on the sale of alcoholic beverages.

 

Towns County’s 2020 budget to increase $993K

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2020 budget - Towns County

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw held a called meeting on Monday afternoon, Dec. 23, to discuss the tentative 2020 county budget. The budget adoption will be held on New Year’s Eve at 10 a.m. at the Towns County Courthouse. Expenditures are expected to increase approximately $993,000 in the coming year, with $11, 174,990 in anticipated disbursements. Bradshaw explained that he strives to “better and increase services” for the citizens, rather than “take away,” without necessitating a spike for Towns County taxpayers.

An across-the-board hourly pay increase of 50-cents will be given to county employees beginning Jan. 1, increasing the budget by approximately $150K. The cost to the county for the 2020 election cycle is estimated at $50K, and a 911-mapping plotter requires repair, at the expense of roughly $12K. An upgraded ambulance will be added to the EMS fleet, the third since Bradshaw took office. Two new dump trucks are needed for the road department, Bradshaw said, as no significant equipment has been purchased for road maintenance in the past 14 years. “We need two dump trucks, for sure, so we put money in the budget to buy one this year and then we’re going to look at doing the SPLOST tax…I don’t want to spend a lot of money on road equipment right now if we can get some of that SPLOST tax because it’s not coming out of the general fund. But they are needing one right now, so we’re putting it in there.” Bradshaw added that although the funds are appropriated, they will not be used unless necessary.

Funding for an additional employee at the Towns County Tax Commissioner’s Office was earmarked, as well as an expenditure for a mandated scanner device for the tax department. An increase in the Towns County Sheriff’s Office budget to furnish two additional deputies was allotted.

“A big chunk of the increase of the budget was the fire department grant, the ambulance, the dump truck, the raises, and the other items that I had mentioned,” Bradshaw said. “I don’t want the taxpayers to think we’re blowing money. We’re not. We wouldn’t even have this in here if we couldn’t cover it, and we’ve got it covered.”

Bradshaw described the Towns County budget as “sound,” stating that all county divisions offered input on their department needs throughout the year to correctly calculate the economic blueprint. Towns County Financial Director Andrea Anderson, whom Bradshaw praised for her labor on the budget, attended the meeting.

Although the meeting was open to the public, citizens were not present at the courthouse. While FYN announced the meeting last week, Towns County’s legal organ did not receive sufficient notice to print the information.

Note: FYN requested a digital copy of Towns County’s full budget. A link will be added once received from the commissioner’s office.

2020 budget DRAFT 2             2020 budget for newspaper

Related Archive:

Bradshaw to hold 2020 budget meeting Dec. 23

 

 

Young Harris fire station nears completion

News
Young Harris Fire Station

YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. – Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw announced the near-completion of the Young Harris fire station, a project that has been in the works for many months. Bradshaw expects the facility to be operational by November. According to the commissioner, the station will feature an additional landing pad for medical helicopters to transport critical patients for trauma care. Towns County currently has four designated landing sites for air transports, strategically located throughout the area.

The Young Harris fire station is located on State Route 66, approximately 1.25 miles from U.S. Highway 76. The current station is situated in the former Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation (BRMEMC) building, a few blocks west of Young Harris College.

“We’re very excited about it,” Bradshaw told FYN last week. “The new station’s location will also help the fire department’s ISO rating and homeowners’ insurance rates.” An ISO insurance rating, also referred to as a fire score or Public Protection Classification, is a score from 1 to 10 that indicates how well-protected a community is by the local fire department.

Commisioner Bradshaw announced in late December that $130,000 derived from the 2018 Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) fund would be applied to the construction of the Young Harris fire station. Detainee labor, which did not cost the taxpayers, contributed to a large portion of the labor involved

The project was originally expected to be completed this summer. It was temporarily delayed, however, due to sight plan issues that the Department of Transportation had with road entry placement. Additionally, wet, winter weather was responsible for an inability to properly grade the land.

 

Completion of Young Harris Fire Station Projected for Summer

News
Towns County Fire Department

YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. – Towns County Sole Commisioner Cliff Bradshaw announced this week that $130,000 derived from the 2018 Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) fund will be applied to the construction of a fire station for Towns County Fire and Rescue in Young Harris. The commissioner said that the project is expected to begin this spring, with completion possible by mid-summer, 2019.

The fire station will be built on state Route 66, approximately 1.25 miles from U.S. Highway 76. The current station is located in the former Electric Membership Corporation (EMC) building, a few blocks west of Young Harris College.

Bradshaw told FetchYourNews that the project was temporarily delayed due to sight plan issues that the Department of Transportation (DOT) had with the road entrance placement. Additionally, wet, winter weather is responsible for the inability to properly grate the land.

“We’re also taking our time with it so that we stay in budget,” the commissioner confirmed.

The “left over” $130,000 SPLOST is expected to cover the cost of the foundation slab and the shell of the building. True to form, Bradshaw plans to incorporate inmate labor into the project as much as possible in order to conserve the county taxpayers’ dollars.

“We will use detainee labor to go in and frame the walls for the bathroom, the front office, and then we are going to have like a day-room,” Bradshaw said in May, 2018, when the project was announced, “We are going to build the building with the future in mind that if we ever had a full-time fire department that there would be a shower there with a bathroom, and then a room with a bed, and stuff like that. It’s a lot cheaper to try and do it now than add on later.”

Six fire stations are strategically located within Towns County, with Station 1 in Hiawassee and Station 2 in Young Harris manned Monday through Friday during county business hours. Dedicated volunteer firefighters respond to “after hour” emergencies as they arise.

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