JASPER — After discussing code enforcement previously this spring, the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners finally decided to move forward with an ordinance calling for a code inspector and special magistrate.
The board unanimously approved publishing the proposed ordinance, which will then require two public hearings and a final vote of the board, at its June 18 meeting.
At previous meetings, the county discussed how Suwannee County handles code enforcement by utilizing a magistrate. The ordinance proposed by County Attorney Cliff Adams called for a magistrate to be appointed as well as appointing a code inspector.
Part of the desire for code enforcement stems from migrant labor camps at the Interstate 75 interchange in Jennings as well as three new permits from the Department of Health allowing migrant labor camps in old hotels at the State Road 6 interchange with I-75 recently as well.
Adams said those permits are illegal based on the county’s LDRs, but they currently have no way to enforce those regulations.
Commissioner Randy Ogburn and Chairman Josh Smith both expressed their anger with the health department ignoring local regulations. Smith said Tom Moffses, the health administrator for the DOH-Hamilton County, said the decision was out of his hands.
“I was as mad as I can get,” Smith said. “Hopefully we can untie his hands.”
Ogburn added: “It just makes me angry…It will cost the county more by issuing a permit that’s illegal. They should be held accountable.”
Several county residents also spoke in favor of the county pursuing code enforcement.
Chris Mericle expressed concern with people living in RV units in various places in the county and how that devalues properties, reading from a letter that eight residents signed in December asking for help from county officials. Mericle said Smith was one of those eight signatures.
Deanna Mericle also said she supported the county moving forward, telling the board that by doing nothing “the problems will continue to get worse.”
Mary and Darwin Thompson also were in favor as an empty lot in their subdivision has been essentially turned into a junkyard with buses and cars filling the lot.
Darwin Thompson said similar situations are throughout the county and even the City of Jasper on a smaller scale.
“It’s not doing this county or this town any good,” he said after offering to help in any way that he could.
The board unanimously approved moving forward with the process.
The county received a clean audit from CPA Ken Daniels at the June 18 meeting as well. Daniels said the county had just one finding during the audit of Fiscal Year 2017-18. That finding was related to FEMA reimbursements with not being able to find documentation for $7,000 that was spent.
Daniels, though, praised the road department for the job they do filling out logs — sometimes multiple — daily in order to document the work they do in order to lead to the reimbursements. Daniels also said Pam Allen compiled volumes of information that made the reimbursement possible.
The county’s reserves in the general fund climbed to right at $11 million, Daniels said, an increase of $600,000, although $530,000 of that increase was due to the FEMA reimbursement.
Daniels said based on his projections, it appeared the county would have excess revenue this year of somewhere between $250,000 to $400,000, a little smaller than the $500,000 they hope to add to reserves each year.
“We’ll fall a little short of that,” he added. “We want to keep your reserves very strong.”
Daniels said that reserve base will come in handy when a big project comes before the board that it needs to get completed.
“We don’t always hear what we want to, but we hear what we need to,” Smith said in thanking Daniels for his work. “You serve this county well.”
The board unanimously approved spending $6,000 to have its website operator make all the PDFs on the website readable in order to be ADA compliant. Most of those documents are LDRs under the Planning and Zoning Department, according to County Coordinator Louie Goodin.
After some discussion on the topic, including the possibility of at least temporarily removing those PDFs off of the website until a solution could be found, the board decided to go ahead with the one-time payment to fix those current documents.
“It’s a bitter pill for me to swallow,” Smith said. “Both the cost of the claim and now to make it compliant.”
The board had previously agreed to settle the lawsuit.
Following an update on the status of renovations to the Hamilton County Courthouse, District 1 Commissioner Beth Burnham passed along a complaint she has received about why the board meets in such a small room.
Burnham said the complaint was the tight quarters isn’t very welcoming, especially if a crowd attends a meeting.
Both Burnham and Smith said the board has previously explored other options, including classrooms and the band room at the Courthouse Annex.
“Tell them it’s all we can afford,” Smith said, adding the board’s chairperson has always made an effort to make sure everybody that wishes to speak at a meeting does so, even if there are rare occasions when people have to sit outside in the hallway.