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County OKs fire, law enforcement studies

Dougherty County Tax Director Denver Hooten, right, and Chief Appraiser Larry Thomas listen to comments from the Dougherty County Commission during the board’s business meeting Monday. The county was discussing a proposed audit of cell towers in the county.

Dougherty County Tax Director Denver Hooten, right, and Chief Appraiser Larry Thomas listen to comments from the Dougherty County Commission during the board’s business meeting Monday. The county was discussing a proposed audit of cell towers in the county.

ALBANY, Ga. -- As Dougherty County Commissioners discussed the merits of proposed fire protection and law enforcement feasibility studies in the county's special services district, District 1 Commissioner Lamar Hudgins offered a compelling summary of the uncertainty swirling around the $39,000 studies.

"We have citizens who say we're not being good stewards of taxpayer money because we don't have our own fire department," Hudgins said. "Then some of the same people say we're not good stewards of the taxpayers' money because we do have our own police department.

"Now neither of these studies is at the top of my priority list, but I'm ready to put this issue to bed. I'm ready to have a credible study of these two areas."

Following through on issues that were discussed at the commission's January retreat, the board voted Monday to fund feasibility studies by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government to determine if the county would be better served by funding its own fire department (a study that will cost $24,000) and if it should do away with its county-funded police department ($15,000).

"I don't think the people at (the University of) Georgia are going to do a better job (of getting information) than what's already been done," District 6 Commissioner Jack Stone said of the proposed law enforcement study. "And I don't think anyone on this commission is going to vote to combine the county's police department with city police or the sheriff's department.

"I wish we'd take this money and use it to give our police officers a raise."

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When District 2 Commissioner John Hayes mentioned the "apparent consensus" of the board not to look for alternative law enforcement options and questioned the wisdom of spending the money for the study, District 4 Commissioner Ewell Lyle took exception.

"I don't know anything about a consensus on this board," Lyle said. "This study is not something that will tell us what we should do, it's to provide answers. We're trying to find more efficient and less costly ways to provide services in the county, and we owe it to our citizens to look at all the options available."

The board voted 6-1, with District 5 Commissioner Gloria Gaines opposed, to fund the fire study and 5-2, with Gaines and Stone voting no, to fund the law enforcement study. Earlier the commission voted unanimously to fund its 50 percent share ($14,750) of a joint city/county Vinson cost of services study for fire and recreation services.

County Administrator Richard Crowdis said fire and recreation intergovernmental agreements are two of 27 such agreements the county has with the city that will be renegotiated before June 30, 2016.

The commission also voted, after extended discussion, to fund a cell tower audit by Cell Tower Solutions that will cost between $120,000 and $140,000 and be included in the county's Fiscal Year 2014 budget. The audit will determine if cell phone providers whose towers are located in the county are paying fair market value for use of the property.

Tax Director Denver Hooten addressed concerns expressed by commissioners over the use of Cell Tower Solutions to conduct the audit.

"We do not have the expertise in our office to know what kind of equipment is located on these towers," Hooten said. "This company has the expertise. I also know there is concern about whether this company plans to work on a contingency basis, but I can assure you they do not. That is not legal in the state of Georgia; it always comes up with this company because (contingency billing) is allowed in other states where they do business.

"The company will actually do the work as a subcontractor of Tax Management Associates, and we've been working with them for years."

Hooten's answers seemed to satisfy commissioners, who voted unanimously to approve the funding, which had been requested by the Board of Tax Assessors.

"This firm is quite controversial, so this issue is not really settled with me," Hudgins said. "I'm going to trust the Tax Assessor's Board to make sure this audit is performed in a way that's even-handed."

Also at the meeting, the commission OK'd $24,445.76 in Capital Improvement Plan funding for the purchase of two EMS cots; approved $21,330 in Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax VI funds for six vehicle console cameras to go in county police vehicles, and passed a resolution that provides a utility easement for Albany's Water, Gas & Light Commission on Newton Road.

Comments

Ihope4albany 11 months, 3 weeks ago

I hope these studies don't sit on the shelf like all the others one done in Albany and Dougherty. Ultimately, the problem is that there is not enough tax base left.

It is time to face facts---Albany-Dougherty has been a largely poor place for a long time masked by the minority-majority wealth. Now that the flight of whites over the last two decades has escalated along with blacks with wealth too, it is clear that efforts to increase the viability of low income persons are imperative.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Commissioner: "but I'm ready to put this issue to bed. " Well, let the voters have a referendum on it. To heck with another study.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 3 weeks ago

District 4 Commissioner Ewell Lyle took exception:

"I don't know anything about a consensus on this board(.) This study is not something that will tell us what we should do, it's to provide answers. We're trying to find more efficient and less costly ways to provide services in the county, and we owe it to our citizens to look at all the options available."

A voice of reason in chaos, a ray of light in all that darkness.

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Amazed2 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Sounds crazy to me on one hand to fund a study about getting rid if the County Police but then at same time fund a study to consider starting a desperate county fire department.?? Maybe I am missing something here but I think that is what I an reading?? Also my thoughts on the police deal heck the City of Albany Police can't control Front Street on Movie Nights and at one point the City Police were locking the doors at night of the Police building. I assume to protect public property and themselves. Maybe combining the County Sheriff and Police makes more sense??

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FryarTuk 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Law enforcement units being considered are DCSD and DCPD. ABY would have to agree to APD & that won't happen. DCSS should consolidate their law enforcement needs with a county wide force. The community is too small and the tax base is too inadequate to sponsor all of these fiefdoms and the citizens suffer with poor services and high taxes.

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VietVet1 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Umm, I think they need to do a study on whether or not to do another study on the matter.

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B4it 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Carlton incorrectly writes about the purpose of the study...."if it should do away with its county-funded police department ($15,000)".

This is not what the study is looking at. The study is to determine if there are potential cost saving alternatives for combining the DoCo Police with the Sheriff's division.

As for Commissioner's Gaines, Hudgins and Stone, they are being irresponsible representatives for this county by not wanting to understand the FACTS, and by not wanting to consider cost saving alternatives. Congratulations to Commissioner Lyle for standing up to the nay sayers!

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Amazed2 11 months, 3 weeks ago

I think we need a study to combine the City and County Commission.

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B4it 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Amazed... there was a previous study done on this which indicated significant cost savings by eliminating duplicated services. However, the City chose to ignore their own vote of approval to move forward with it.

The problem I see with doing this now, is that we still have a majority of City and County Commissioners who are too shallow-minded to know how to do this kind of project. They have also demonstrated their lack of intelligence to make good cost reduction decisions.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 3 weeks ago

And do you think that nest of spending fools, Bobby Jr., T. Postell, Chris the Piker, Climbing Ivy and Milquetoast Mayretta will give up plundering the 90 million dollars in WG&L?

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Amazed2 11 months, 3 weeks ago

I guess I am puzzled by the Fire Department study to decide if we need a desperate department? I thought we already contributed heavily to the current department? Seems rather than paying for a Study you just sit down see where the weaknesses are and maybe relocate a station or add a couple new locations. Seems obviously cheaper that way? If the County were to star their own and pulled all $$ from the current dept that can't be good for anybody?? Guess I was not aware of a big problem. "WE" just ain't that damm big that we need 2 Fire Departments.

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B4it 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Amazed2... I agree. I hope the study will show where some efficiencies can be gained. Currently, the budget for the Unincorporated area of the county is way out of balance for the costs incurred for the County Police and Fire compared to the number of residents (about 16,000 in the Unincorporated area).

The Police and Fire resources are shared resources with the City whenever there are issues (e.g. a recent shooting near the county line and we had 3 law enforcement units investigating = City, County and Drug Units). If there is a fire in the City or County, the nearest units will respond to share their resources. However, the costs are still allocated separately for 4 fire stations in the Unincorporated area. Some commissioners still do not understand this, and still do not want to hear any facts about it.

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