By Linton Johnson
A high-level dispute has erupted between officials with the City of Elberton and Elbert County governments over a millage rate increase the county commissioners approved for economic development.
In an open letter published Tuesday in the Elberton Star, County Administrator Bob Thomas called on Elberton Mayor Larry Guest to apologize for making what he called “untrue statements” about the commissioners’ September 20 vote to add a half-mill to the county’s tax levy for the purpose of economic development.
Thomas said the action was taken as part of the overall millage rate on a motion by Commissioner Kenneth Ashworth and was approved by a 3-1 vote.
“My main purpose was to respond to a previous article in the Elberton Star about where I think the mayor was quoted as saying the county commissioners were lying to the citizens of Elbert County by not building a spec building,” the administrator said. “I wanted to clarify the fact that the vote was 3-1 to use the money for economic development.”
Thomas said the increase was for broader economic development purposes and not, as Guest has stated, specifically designated for construction of an industrial spec building.
In response to Thomas’s letter, the mayor said he stands by his contention, which is based on a statement comments by Commissioner Lee Vaughn at an August 14commission meeting.
“I stand by my statement that I made at the development authority a couple of weeks ago that I have it on video that Mr. Vaughn’s original motion was for a spec building,” Guest said. “Mr. Vaughn later told me that if it was used for anything else, he would not be in favor of it and would not vote for it.”
Vaughn told WSGC News on Tuesday he still “100 percent” wants the additional money to toward a spec building and will not vote to use it for any expenditures other than for a spec building.
The county administrator said he is not aware of any request for economic development funding in the near future, although at a recent meeting of the local Development Authority, Executive Director Rusty Warner had suggested using some of the money for the development of a Tax Allocation District program.
“The majority of the commissioners have not talked about it,” Thomas said. “We’ve talked individually about how to use the money and what to use it for, but no decisions have been made. None of the money will be spent without a vote of the entire commission. I’m sure there are some on the commission that would love to see a spec building, and there’s probably some that don’t think that should be the first priority.”
Thomas added, “We have not gone through our collection period. A half-mill will only generate about $230,000 for one year, providing you have a 100 percent collection rate, and that’s certainly
not enough to purchase a spec building. You can certainly finance one over the years, but it will take a while to do that. I don’t want to put the words in the commissioners’ mouths, because I’m not the one that makes the decisions about how that money is spent.”
Thomas said the main purpose of his open letter was to correct the record about the county’s actions, but he repeated his call for Mayor Guest to apologize.
“I think he should because in my interpretation of what was in the paper, he was calling the commissioners liars,” Thomas said. “He was indicating that they were not going to spend the money like they had voted on. But again, the vote was on economic development. It was not for a spec building per se.”