Lee County commissioners approved their Fiscal Year 2015 budget Tuesday night. Pictured during the meeting are, from left, County Clerk Christi Dockery, County Attorney Jimmy Skipper, County Manager Ron Rabun and County Commission Chairman Rick Muggridge. (Staff Photo: Danny Carter)
Westover Road Construction Update
Lee County Manager Ron Rabun gives an update on the Westover Road construction.
LEESBURG _ Just two weeks after a heated discussion on a potential ad valorem tax increase in Lee County, commissioners Tuesday night approved the $23.45 million spending plan for Fiscal Year 2015 by a 3-2 vote that was preceded by little discussion.
The budget is likely to require a tax increase of 1.44 mills, but the specifics will not be known until Lee’s tax digest is finalized.
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While large, mostly fixed-cost items such as salaries and benefits account for most of the spending, the document also includes new items such as $450,000 for road resurfacing, $172,000 in building maintenance, two new deputies for the Lee Sheriff’s Office, $52,000 for a new training officer for the Fire Department and another $44,000 to help equip a new volunteer firefighting unit.
Commission Vice Chairman Dennis Roland and Commissioner Ed Duffy voiced opposition to the tax increase at the commission’s work session two weeks ago. They maintained their stand Tuesday night, voting against the budget.
Commissioners Luke Singletary and Greg Frich were out of state on business and were not able to physically attend the meeting Tuesday night. They did, however, participate by telephone. In fact, Frich made the long-distance motion to pass the budget, which was seconded by Singletary. Commission Chairman Rick Muggridge cast the deciding vote to approve the budget.
During the work session on June 10, Duffy and former commissioner Bill Williams took exception to remarks by Singletary and Frich. They felt the two were blaming former commissions for not keeping buildings maintained and for failing to replace equipment, thereby resulting in the need for a tax increase. Muggridge addressed the issue before Tuesday night’s vote.
“There is no such thing as a perfect budget because every commissioner, every person, has different thoughts on government,” said Muggridge. “If we marked up this budget individually, we’d add and subtract things differently. But at the end of the day, we come together as a group, or at least as a majority, and do what we think is the right thing.
“If we implied the previous board did something wrong, or if we seem to target or blame a past board, that was a miscommunication. I believe they did the best they could do with the information they had. I believe they were earnestly trying to do the people’s business.”
In the other major action of the night, commissioners accepted a bid from Oxford Construction Co. of Albany to pave a new roadway known as Westover Road Extension that will connect Ledo Road and Fussell Road. More importantly, the road will eventually tie in with the Forrester Parkway extension and is expected to be a key to commercial and retail development.
The winning bid of $322,835 includes construction of a 0.86-mile stretch of the new roadway and includes grading, base work, drainage and paving.
“We’re going to have some quick action,” said County Manager Ron Rabun. “We’re asking the winning bidder, Oxford Construction, to start work this Friday. We expect dirt to be moved soon and equipment to be on-site. There’s rapid action taking place. We want to get finished by Sept. 24, maximum.”
Rabun noted that the winning bid came in lower than the county staff’s estimate of $427,000. Two other companies bid on the project. The highest bid submitted was $560,000.
Commissioners also approved a six-month contract with CVB Collections Inc. to help collect overdue solid waste accounts. The contract does not include any direct cost to the county, Rabun said. The firm has handled collection for Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission and Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, he said.
Diane Herring, human resource and payroll clerk, was recognized by the commission for completing three years of coursework through the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government to become a certified human resources manager. Herring was complimented by both Muggridge and Rabun for completing the coursework and for her day-to-day performance.
Commissioners also accepted the donation of a painting of the Lee County Courthouse from State Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg. The painting is valued at $1,500. Rabun said the painting will be placed in the courthouse. The painting evolved from a project by the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, which celebrated its 100th anniversary. As part of the celebration, ACCG hired a photographer to take photographs of every courthouse in Georgia. The work will be included in a “coffee table” book, Rabun said.
Commissioners also approved a lease with Farm Service Agency from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will rent 2,586 square feet of space for an annual payment of $23,835, retroactive to Oct. 1, 2013.
“We’re proud to be compensated for that space,” said Rabun, noting that no rent had been charged in the past. “It’s a market-driven contract. Nothing should be free. We can now take care of the space as it should be taken care of.”