MARY ANN ANDERSON
In a break from standard procedure, most of last week’s agenda items for the Hazlehurst City Council were approved in Tuesday night’s monthly work session instead of Thursday night’s regular meeting. Most items were timely and needed to be voted on before the Thursday meeting, Mayor Bayne Stone explained to the council.
The city’s finances took center stage for most of both meetings, with Stone leading off on Tuesday that Kendall Davis, the city’s longtime auditor, informed City Clerk Vernice Lopez that he is no longer working with municipalities.
“We need an auditor right away,” said Stone, adding that the city will be asking for an extension for the audit for the year ending June 30, 20187, as the audit is due by the end of the year. “I can’t emphasize how critical this is.”
Lopez and Stone both pointed out that Davis didn’t inform them that he couldn’t do the audit until two to three weeks ago, which is why the city is in such a bind to find an auditor.
“They are no longer licensed to do it,” Lopez said Davis told her of not being able to complete the audit. “And they don’t have the time to do it, and they don’t have the people to do it.”
With Stone saying that it would take the council and City Accountant Tammy Metts Dyal “with our shoulders to the wheel” to find an auditor, he concluded that among them, they could “all work together to come up with someone who will do a good job.”
Also during both meetings, the discussion turned to the ebb and flow of money to finish paying off the recently completed roundabouts project in the school zone and the parallel runway at Hazlehurst Municipal Airport.
With Stone pointing out in the Tuesday workshop that the city is “solvent at this time,” he said that it still owed about $67,000 to Croy Engineering for work at the airport, Hofstadter and Associates about $32,000 for engineering consulting work for both projects, and approximately $41,000 to Georgia Asphalt Producers, also for both projects. He then pointed out that the city had around $95,000 to pay those bills, and that some of them could be paid partially or in full.
Stone’s suggestion was to use that $95,000 to pay off Croy in full and make a partial payment to Hofstadter of $25,000, which would leave a balance of $7,000. He said that Georgia Asphalt Producers could wait until “another day” when an insurance overpayment check of about $85,000 would be coming in to the city, and that Joey Hiers, owner of Georgia Asphalt, was fine with being paid later.
The council then passed two motions, one to pay Croy in full at $67,000 and Hofstadter in part at $25,000, with Georgia Asphalt waiting until the insurance refund check comes in.
When Thursday night’s meeting rolled around, Stone informed the council that the insurance overpayment check had finally arrived at City Hall, and that it was $80,000 instead of the expected $85,000, but that an unexpected $40,000 of that money had to be put back into the city’s self-insured plan because of what he termed an “extreme amount of heavy insurance claims” for the previous month. But with the remainder of the money, the city paid Hofstadter its remaining $7,000, with $30,000 to Georgia Asphalt, which leaves a balance on the airport and roundabouts projects of only $11,000 to Georgia Asphalt.
In other action, the council ….
…. agreed on Tuesday to reimburse James Benjamin of Benjamin Concrete $1,242 for city sewer services on his current active account that he had been paying since 2014 but not actually receiving due to an error in running drain lines to his business. The council on Thursday tabled until a later date Benjamin’s request to be refunded for sewer services paid for on a prior inactive account at the same location dating from 2008 until 2013.
…. adopted a resolution that will provide a required Language Access Plan to Associates in Local Government Assistance in Alma for work that is related to a 2018 Community Development Block Grant.
…. agreed to proceed with Dyal’s recommendation to pay off two loans with the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.
…. with Stone leading off that the city has its “hands full” with new projects, discussed financing for the purchase of the building that now houses Dr. Sidney P. Johnson’s medical practice and the reroofing of other city-owned buildings. Natasha Bennett of the city attorney’s office of Smith and Bennett informed the council that she would be meeting with representatives of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and the Heart of Georgia Altamaha Regional Commission to, in her words, “hash out financing” for the projects. The council also talked at length during both meetings to have the Downtown Development Authority, a separate entity of the city but that is still ultimately governed by the city, to secure financing on Johnson’s medical building and on another city-owned building in the Hazlehurst Municipal Complex that is currently being rented by Middle Georgia Probation. Stone explained that the reason for purchasing the buildings is to have “ample room” for the city to expand in years to come. He also clarified the city’s position of purchasing the property in the complex, saying, “We are not in the business of buying property except for that property that we think the future of this city may need.”
…. accepted a low bid of $7,605 from J and J Roofing and Construction of Baxley for roofing work on the city-owned building at the corner of U.S. 23 and South Cromartie Street that was purchased from Southside Baptist Church. The council also voted to transfer ownership of that same building from the city’s General Fund to the Water and Sewer Department.
…. after a lengthy discussion in the workshop, voted to renew the City’s health insurance contract with Paragon Insurance. Stone pointed out that while the city’s portion of the premiums will rise in the coming year from about $750 to $900 per month per employee – and that the insurance equates to about $10,000 a year in benefits for each employee – he stated that the city must “do everything we can to continue to look after our employees.”
…. appointed Matt Bloodworth to the Hazlehurst Municipal Golf Course advisory board to replace resigning member Eddie Aycock, with Ward Four Councilman John Bloodworth abstaining from voting, as Matt Bloodworth is his nephew. And in yet another long discussion, Stone also commended golf course employees Tony Berry and Brice Reagin for keeping the course “unique and pretty,” but at the same time saying he was “disappointed” in its upkeep, especially in regards to landscaping issues.
…. approved the route for the annual Christmas parade on December 8 that is sponsored by the Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Chamber of Commerce.
…. approved training and travel expenses for Macy Deen of the Hazlehurst Police Department to attend Desert Snow training at the Atlanta Police Training Academy in December.
…. passed a motion to have an audit done on utility franchise fees, with the audit being completed by services provided by the Georgia Municipal Association.
…. in approving departmental reports, water and sewer adjustments, and the check register for the period ending October 31, discussed but made no formal decision on expanding trash pickup services in more densely populated areas outside of the city limits.
…. in the Mayor and Councilmen’s Comments section of the workshop, discussed potential employee raises and Christmas and safety bonuses, and for the annual Christmas dinner to be held December 21 and for all city offices to be closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
The next workshop of the city council is Dec. 17 at 6 p.m. at City Hall, with the regular December meeting scheduled for Dec. 20, also at 6 p.m. at City Hall.