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."
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.