UPDATED: NO to ‘biggest tax break in Fayette history’

In a composite shot from file photos are (L) Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown and County Commission Chairman Herb Frady.

Brown’s sales tax shift killed 3-to-2; crowd criticizes West F’ville Bypass

UPDATED for June 29 print edition — The seats were packed for the June 23 Fayette County Commission meeting, but most left the meeting with their hopes unfulfilled.

The lion’s share of the crowd appeared to support an effort by Commissioner Steve Brown to use a new Georgia law to divert transportation sales tax money away towards a host of overdue county purchases and projects and/or a property tax break for citizens.

Brown said the tax break could have been the largest in Fayette County history, but countered that he would ask for some of the money back the following year to deal with projects that have been delayed too long.

The county administrative building needs a new roof, and the county also needs a new emergency operations center that can withstand severe weather to insure the county can respond to emergencies in a disaster scenario, Brown said.

Brown’s motion was to allow the voters to consider the sales tax repurposing in a referendum at the next possible election. However, according to the law, the county would first have to pass a resolution or ordinance declaring one or more of the transportation SPLOST projects unfeasible as a first step.

After that occurs, the county could then notify the elections board to prepare for the SPLOST election.

Those who spoke at the public hearing for the budget supported Brown’s proposal, though their comments came after the board denied it on a 2-3 vote, with commissioners Herb Frady, Lee Hearn and Robert Horgan against. Brown was in favor, joined by Commissioner Allen McCarty.

At the start of the meeting, Frady suggested that Brown’s proposal be heard before the county voted to adopt the budget, so it was moved to the first item on the agenda, immediately preceding the budget vote.

Citizens who addressed the commission after the sales tax repurposing was voted down had a familiar theme: they didn’t want the county to spend millions on the West Fayetteville Bypass.

Randy Ognio said a group of citizens already has “hundreds of signatures” on a petition in favor of Brown’s sales tax proposal, and an effort will be underway to get hundreds more.

“We are going to show you that more citizens than y’all realize are wanting an opportunity to vote on this,” Ognio said.

One resident, Paul Parchert, went so far as to accuse the commission of being engaged in corruption as related to the bypass.

Commission Chairman Herb Frady then asked Parchert to send him information of the alleged corruption. Parchert replied that he hasn’t been able to find it yet.

“But if I can figure out what it is, believe me you’ll know it and you’ll go to jail,” Parchert said.

“Well, that works both ways,” Frady replied.

Although Parchert’s comment was caustic, it was not representative of the tone of the others who spoke in favor of Brown’s proposal and against the West Fayetteville Bypass.

Denise Ognio said she has been door to door with many citizens and all of them have said “no” to the West Fayetteville Bypass.

“I also received a couple of ‘hell nos,’”she said.

Nancy Truluck said she did not understand why three commissioners kept supporting the bypass.

“I think if you want it so bad, the three of y’all ought to pay for it,” Truluck said.

Resident Tom Waller criticized the county for stationing several heavy pieces of equipment along Sandy Creek Road near the second phase of the bypass, which is already partially under construction. Waller said the scene reminded him of a bunch of tanks looking down that road.

Waller said he felt the road equipment was there to intimidate the residents and send a message: “If you get in the way, you’re going to get blown away.”

In defense of the bypass, Frady cited statistics about the growing number of automobiles registered in Fayette County. In 1991 there were some 72,862 vehicles registered, and the number was up to 119,590 in 2010, Frady said.

“The vehicles have increased 64 percent but we’ve built no new roads,” since 1991, Frady said.

Brown countered that his family has several cars, but he can only drive one at a time.

Brown also announced that he offered a compromise to his fellow commissioners on the bypass project. Brown said he would be OK with the county purchasing all the necessary right of way for the road, as long as construction waited until money was available and the road was truly necessary.

In countering Brown’s presentation, Commissioner Horgan said the new Georgia law that Brown wanted to use for the fund diversion was designed to help communities use encumbered funds for projects that were indeed unfeasible.

Horgan also said the commission has indeed held back on purchases to build up the $8 million “rainy day” extra surplus funding over the past several years. Horgan also rapped Brown for not attending the first full-day budget workshop between the commission and county staff in late May. Brown later noted that he missed that meeting because he was coaching the science olympiad team from Booth Middle School as they were out of town for the national competition.

Brown noted that he got up to speed on the budget following the budget workshop.

Frady said he thought Brown “did a good job of painting doom and gloom” but the legislature didn’t intend House BIll 240 to be used in the way Brown proposed.

Hearn quoted extensively from a Standard and Poors evaluation earlier this year of Fayette County’s financial picture, which was considerably favorable and praised the county for being able to weather the financial storm of lower property taxes the past several years much better than many other local governments.

The evaluation was done as part of the process for evaluating the county’s refinancing of the 2001 bonds to finance the Fayette County Justice Center, and Hearn said he thought that was equivalent to an independent, unbiased assessment of the county’s financial condition.

Noting the use of $3 million in recently built up cash reserves, Brown has contended the county’s budget is “unsustainable.”

Commissioner McCarty suggested the county seek a legal opinion from the Georgia Attorney General as to what the county can and cannot do under HB 240. He said he favored using the transportation SPLOST revenues to lower county taxes.

McCarty added that he felt county staff did an excellent job in preparing and presenting the budget, and that if any more cuts were to be made, the county would truly be cutting services.

mudcat's picture
Joined: 10/26/2005
June 23, 2011. What a difference 13 months make.

Easy to read about that county commission meeting with all we now know. Putting this up here as an update is a pretty strong campaign ad for Mr. Ognio. Sure hope he wins this. Barlow is going to nominate him for county commission chair. Talk about big changes Ognio, the chair instead of Frady. Oddo, Barlow, Brown, McCarty, too. No good old boy network there.

Steve Brown
Steve Brown's picture
Joined: 12/02/2009
Lee Hearn is going to "roll up" the taxpayers in debt

This "roll-up" in 2013 means some poor homeowners who have lost a significant amount of value in their homes, most likely upside down in the mortgage, are going to pay an inflated rate of property tax on their devalued homes. Lee Hearn supports this.

Lee has been deficit spending EVERY YEAR he has been in office.

I offered the HB 240 solution that would have de-funded the West Fayetteville Bypass and used the funds for paying off debt service and tax relief. Lee voted me down.

I have consistently demanded that we bid all contracts. Mallet Consulting has been receiving no-bid contracts from the county and the county's water utility for DECADES - we are talking tons of money. There are many other vendors who never see competitive bidding as well. Lee voted me down.

I have consistently asked for cuts in expenditures equal to the point of the revenue generated. Lee voted me down. I have asked to look into privatizing the building inspection department to generate cost savings. Lee voted me down and he RAISED the permit and inspection fees.

Lee gave an across the board pay increase to staff and created other additional expenses over the last five years and had no revenue to fund it.

Lee pushed for purchasing a $300,000 piece of heavy equipment his year, not budgeted, at the same time we are deficit spending. They are spending hundreds of thousands on paving Snead Road for the adjacent developers and large land owner when we are deficit spending. Both cases, Lee voted me down.

The choice is that primary runoff race is so blatantly simple you would have to be blind not to see it. Randy Ognio is the ONLY choice in that race.

The Truth Will ...
The Truth Will Prevail's picture
Joined: 10/13/2008
The sneaky engineer vs the savvy businessman

SB if your assessments above are indeed accurate, I would hope voters study the facts and realize we are lacking honest representation and choose to take back Fayette County in the run off election, Aug 21. Vote for the "savvy" businessman instead of the "sneaky" engineer!

Steve Brown
Steve Brown's picture
Joined: 12/02/2009
Lee Hearn voted against the biggest break in Fayette History

He had to keep moving forward on the West Fayetteville Bypass where his relatives own a lot of land.

You also get: 4 years of deficit spending, 4 years of de-funding the county's Fire Fund, voting in favor of keeping Fayette in the regional mass transit plans and a tax increase in 2013.

conditon55's picture
Joined: 03/12/2010
What in simple terms is the real issue with the WFB

I cannot figure out what is the real issue with this road. I read a lot in the citizen, but the simple central kernel of truth is missing.

What is the real objection ?

For sure the underlying reason has not appeared in print to date.

I wonder what it is?

On paper EFB and WFB both benefit central Fayetteville by piping through traffic away from the town center , opening the possibility for a revitalized and really cool town center. A model of livable community.

WFB will route traffic from GA towards I85 to the north. Awesome.

Once the Fayetteville downtown moves towards the Senoia model we can run regional bus for seniors and commuter rail up to the Gold Dome via the Airport. So I can park in Fayetteville, ride the train to the airport fly to Tokyo or Rome or New York and when I come back, ride the train back to Fayetteville get in my car and 10 minute to home. Beautiful.

johenry's picture
Joined: 08/22/2006
$8.5 MILLION for a roundabout in Fayetteville!

I just found out Fayetteville has another roundabout near GA Hwy 85 that costs $8.5 million.

Think about all we could do with the kind of money.

Gene61's picture
Joined: 01/14/2009
Tax $ waste on Grady roundabout

I agree 1005 with Art's well thought out comments..

roundabout's picture
Joined: 01/01/2011

I disagree 1006 with ARF's (dog bark) not thouighty out at all remarks!

Clayton County would have covered some of the beaten paths along the highway 85 with that money if Fayette wasn't taking care of the future of Fayette!

The WBP will be four-laned eventually, but the othert two lanes then will cost three times as much as the two do now!

There are still a few "thinkers" about road planning.

Eisenhower was a great thinker in that area---he had built the Interstates after having seen the German high speed roads during WW2.

BHH's picture
Joined: 02/11/2011
Yes but

can't we hide from this crap a little bit longer.

Like say 30-40 yrs.

Arf's picture
Joined: 06/08/2007
Tax $ waste on Grady roundabout

It is obvious that there is tax money that was supposed to be spent on "road projects" and that the county is really reaching in order to spend that money on roads so that it can't be used elsewhere.

The "roundabout" project at Grady Ave/Redwine-Beauregard is another such project just like the West ByPass. How necessary is this project. Traffic has been rerouted for months, businesses in the area have been affected and a previously quiet residential intersection has been torn apart. I drive (or used to drive before construction) through this intersectin twice a day to and from work. It was a four way stop with no traffic problem. On occasion, there was a bottleneck of sorts, but not nearly as bad as some of the other county intersections. I never dreaded driving through this intersection like some (54/74 in PTC.) To me, this intersection was not broken, yet the county has chosen to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and tie up traffic for months and inconvenience a lot of people seemingly in order to just spend money on roads. I have a feeling that this intersection will be disasterous after the improvements.

Just like the West Bypass, I have not heard any...any comments from other citizens who think this roundabout is necessary or a good idea. It sprung up quickly without a lot of advance notice or discussion. I am cynical enough these days to think that somebody is getting rich off this project and it isn't the citizens of Fayette. What is going on when these things are shoved down our throats without warning and with no voice? Part of that tax money came from me. I should have input into how and where its spent.

mudcat's picture
Joined: 10/26/2005
No Arf, you are not smart enough to decide

That's what Frady, Horgan and Hearn are for. They have all kinds of information you don't have and they will make the decisions. And it is not your tax money instead it is their private slush fund that is there for them to dip into whenever they want. The roundabout doesn't fix a problem? Who says we need to solve a problem? W just need to spend money on something related to road projects or we will lose it.

jfinnman's picture
Joined: 10/21/2010
Arf's comment

I think Arf's right. This is another dumb idea. How do you "lose" money you don't spend? This ranks right up there with the traffic light installed at the corner of Ginger Cake and Hwy 92. With "walk-don't walk" lights. I have yet to see anyone walking along this part of Hwy 92. Just another way to waste taxpayer's money.

mudcat's picture
Joined: 10/26/2005
I'll try to be less subtle next time

That was sarcasm, although I would not be surprised if the 3 dopes didn't have those thoughts in their private moments.

BHH's picture
Joined: 02/11/2011
Did anyone else notice

a subtle change in attitude by the three amigos?

It seems at this meeting they at least recognized and tried to address the concerns presented in some reasonable way.

Even though their arguments for the most part do not hold water.

I wonder what the S & P study might say this time next year, since it's the future we are worried about and not the past which this study is based on.

That reference to the vehicles registered in the county is so lame.

I have 4 vehicles registered myself and only 2 drivers.

Also have 2 trailers which are possibly included in his totals.

Vehicles registered has no relevance what so ever to any need for new roads. Traffic studies would be good.

New roads don't always equal economic growth or generate new construction either, which is probably their hope in building this road.

Just look at South Fulton Pkwy.

Robert W. Morgan
Robert W. Morgan's picture
Joined: 10/26/2005
Noticing the change

Sure. Frady let Brown speak first which was appropriate. Hearn and Horgan had their written script, albeit with a deer in the headlights look because of the huge turnout. They are used to 6 people in the audience and that's how most of these problems start - no citizen input or oversight - only days later through the Munford filter do we find out what they did.

South Fulton Parkway is a fine example of a developer's road built with other people's money - in that case the people of North Fulton County who got so tired of the diversion of tax money from north to south they formed their own cities. But South Fulton Parkway - which is a great shortcut to the airport when there is a back-up on 85 - is still mostly empty and our WFB will also be empty for a long, long time. Even John Wieland will have trouble finding a bank that will loan money to build on property owned by others. The banks are going to be favoring and pushing their own property (foreclosed from developers) for years and years to come - 5 or 6 at the very least. If that seems gloomy, check out Bank of North Georgia's property for sale list and know that is only about 1/2 of what they actually own or are about to own in the next few months. Big hole to dig out of before we need more land to develop.

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