Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor began Wednesday’s public meeting by approving both the county’s 2019 fiscal year budget as well as an amended FY 2018 budget.
“As we do every year, when the year closes we amend the prior year’s budget to bring everything in balance if there’s any overages or underages,” said Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson. “Last year, we actually came in about $2 million over-budget on revenue — in other words, we brought in $2 million more revenue than we projected.”
General fund expenses, however, came in about $1.4 million over budget. Olson cited those departmental overages on several factors, including increased gasoline prices, an uptick in employee benefits costs and several unexpected infrastructural repairs, including emergency work on the collapsed culvert along Tanyard Creek last spring.
“We did a little extra paving we had planned for because we had a little extra revenue, so that accounts for the overages,” Olson said.
While general fund budgeting for FY ’19 is up about 2 percent, the overall county budget is down about $2 million compared to 2018’s fiscal year budget.
“Largely, it’s business as usual,” Olson said. “The increases come in every year … we budget for a raise for the employees, we budget for health care increases, pension cost increases, just general increased costs of operation.”
The total FY 2019 county budget is roughly $125.5 million, with general fund expenses tabbed at $81.1 million. The three highest-budgeted departments are the sheriff’s office ($24.8 million), the fire department ($12.3 million) and the road department ($8.5 million.)
Thanks to a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Olson said the county will be able to bring in several new fire department personnel.
“We’ll have more firefighters on duty on every shift than we did last year,” he said. “We did increase the staffing level at the fire department in connection with the [Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response] grant, so the revenue’s up but the expenses are up as well.”
Elsewhere on the agenda, Taylor gave his approval to an application to de-annex about 264 acres along the old Paga Mine property.
“This property was annexed by the county into the City of Cartersville back in about 2005, as a part of the effort to defeat a landfill on the Paga Mine property,” Olson said. “Now, with the Jacoby Development Group being interested in a development in that whole area, the Paga Mine property is already in the City of Emerson, some of it’s unincorporated, some of it’s in the City of Cartersville … we want it to de-annex out of Cartersville, potentially to annex into Emerson so that if that development occurs it will all be under one jurisdiction’s authority.”
Olson said the county has already spoken with officials representing the City of Cartersville, and that they have no objections to the proposal.
“If that development moves forward,” Olson said, “you’ll probably see us applying to put it in Emerson’s jurisdiction.”
Taylor approved a $297,715 bid for KAM Contracting Southeast to make sewer system improvements at Hamilton Crossing Park and gave his authorization to a $459,570 bid for C.H. Kirkpatrick and Sons to perform work associated with a U.S. 411 water main extension project.
The county commissioner also approved several contracts with Floyd County to use their prisoners for certain county services.
“Floyd, for awhile, they couldn’t get us more than one crew but they have finally been able to get more crews revved up, so we’re going to get one additional crew to help the road department with trimming,” Olson said, “and then two additional crews to help at the recycling center, because the load down there is ever increasing and the pick line isn’t able to keep up.”
Taylor additionally approved a lease agreement with Calhoun-based iWispr, LLC and Euharlee-based Decibel Audio/Video/Automation, LLC to provide wireless internet connectivity throughout the more rural portions of Bartow County.
“Our preference is not to get into the business or try to get into the business of being a broadband provider,” Olson said. “I think there are some communities that have done that. They’ve spent millions, this is about a $20,000 investment for the county … we’re giving them rent free for two years, then we’ll renegotiate.”
Taylor said he gets phone calls “constantly” from residents in the northernmost and southernmost pockets of the county about subpar internet access.
“This is just the first step, hopefully, an inexpensive step we can do as a county government to allow these companies to come onto our properties and put their poles up,” he said. “They’re not towers, they’re basically just wooden poles that they can attach their equipment to.”
About eight of those poles — described by Olson as about 70 feet in length — should be going up throughout the county in a few weeks.
“Hopefully, they will gain enough customers to make a profit, and the county, we will do what we can to help both these companies to market their goods,” Taylor said.
Taylor additionally approved an extension of a Georgia Environmental Finance Authority loan to Nov. 1 to complete the water tank project at the Highland 75 industrial park in White. He also gave his approval to an ordinance extending a development moratorium along the Highway 411 corridor, which was initially adopted several months ago in anticipation of the $100-million-plus Rome-Cartersville Development Corridor project.
“They’ve narrowed their route down pretty significantly now, and one part of it, some of it goes through areas that were scheduled to become subdivisions, so they were trying to prevent a bunch of citizens buying new houses only to be told the road’s going to come through and take them out,” Olson said. “So we’re told that’s close to completion, that they’ve got their appraisal and they’re negotiating with the property owner and hopefully we’ll get that acquisition resolved and we can let the moratorium expire.”
Although the proposal was recommended for denial by the Bartow County Planning Commission, Taylor gave his approval to a request from BCR Ministries, Inc. to construct “a place of worship and spiritual retreat center” on about 30 acres of land along Hodges Mine Road. The approval, however, comes with several stipulations, including the requirement of 150 foot buffers along the right of way on Euharlee Road as well as Hodges Mine Road, “no religious retreat activity” Monday through Thursday and a commissioner-requested condition that no more than 20 retreat guests be on the premises at any time.
Lastly, Taylor approved a sweeping series of zoning ordinance amendments, which entailed everything from new safety standards for residential communities with private driveways to the banning of the use of mobile homes as storage buildings.
But perhaps the most important of those amendments pertains to the county’s stance on digital billboards. The approved ordinance changes now allow petitioners to seek conditional-use permits to construct LED digital billboards throughout the county — albeit, with a number of variables, including but not limited to “the character of the area, whether light emitting from [the] the board will be a nuisance to drivers, whether [the] sign is new or replacing an existing sign [and] the number of billboard faces the applicant is willing to remove for each sign face requested," determining whether or not an application is approved.
The conditional use permits, which cost $2,500 to apply for, will be valid for one year. Once the billboards are constructed, however, the permit will remain valid for 20 years from the date of the commissioner’s approval.
The applications would not come before the county planning commission for consideration.
“The billboard amendment will take effect in 30 days,” said Bartow County Zoning Administrator Brandon Johnson, referring to the wide array of ordinance amendments approved by Taylor at Wednesday’s public meeting. “Everything else will be immediate.”