In 2022, Whitfield County officials finished several major projects, including the openings of Riverbend Park and Rocky Face Park as well as the completion of renovations on the courthouse. They also dealt with the impact of soaring inflation on the county budget. The Dalton Daily Citizen spoke with county Board of Commissioners Chairman Jevin Jensen, looking back at the accomplishments in 2022 and the challenges the county faces this year.

Dalton Daily Citizen: How is the county budget faring? Were revenues and spending in line with projections last year and so far this year? Did you end 2022 with a surplus? and what’s the state of the fund balance? How is inflation affecting both revenues and costs?

Jensen: It has been a tough 18 months with ever-increasing inflation hitting the county, just like it’s hitting citizens’ pocketbooks. However, with a conservative approach to budgeting and by closely monitoring spending each month we were able to keep our spending and revenue aligned for 2022. The commissioners approved the third property tax reduction in a row in 2022. We expect a small surplus for 2022 after a final review by our auditors. Our fund balance is now at a record $32.8 million, and the commissioners generally feel there is no need to expand it further

DDC: I believe the county was able to pave a higher number of miles of road in 2022 than 2021 and fill quite a few more potholes. How were you able to do that? and do you expect to maintain that pace this year? Murray County has a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax that has greatly increased the number of miles of road it can pave. Are Whitfield County commissioners looking at adopting a TSPLOST?

Jensen: The commissioners adopted a business-like approach in 2022 to set goals and meaningful metrics for essential areas like paving and filling potholes. Bob Sivick, our county administrator, and new Public Works Supervisor Steve Bratton deserve a lot of credit. They have reorganized the team, set stretch goals and improved our road maintenance. The goals for 2023 are equally aggressive. There is no plan for TSPLOST in Whitfield.

DDC: How much of the county’s $20.3 million share of (federal) American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding has been spent or committed? How much do you have left and how do you plan to determine how that will be spent?

Jensen: There is $2.5 million left in ARPA funds that need to be allocated. Several projects are still in process with those funds being allocated but not paid out. There are currently no plans for the unallocated amount. We are open to citizen input after the current projects are completed.

DDC: The county has several big projects that are being funded from the 2020 SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax). Are they all complete? What impact are they having? Are revenues from the SPLOST meeting forecasts? I believe the SPLOST expires next year. Are commissioners planning for a SPLOST after that?

Jensen: 2022 was a big year for the completion of several of the voter-approved SPLOST construction projects. Several projects are still in process such as sewer expansion in the west and south of the county. The commissioners plan to work with Dalton and our other towns later this year on possible future SPLOST. We are running a surplus in the SPLOST account thanks to careful project management.

Successfully completed projects this past year include Riverbend Park completion, Rocky Face Ridge Park opening, Animal Shelter expansion and courthouse modernization. We received a national award for Riverbend Park and great feedback on Rocky Face Ridge from Civil War historians in the area. Additionally, the courthouse’s vital historical records and deeds are now securely stored online, so citizens have 24/7 access, giving us a true 21st century digital courthouse. The surplus may allow for future expansion of existing approved projects. Of course, we have to stay within the guidelines the voters approved, but we will consider items like a new energy-efficient roof for our detention center and a playground at Riverbend Park.

DDC: Commissioners have finally settled in a permanent meeting room in the courthouse. and you’ve got a new audiovisual system that impressed Dalton officials so much they asked the same company to install one in City Hall. What is the feedback you’ve gotten from the public? Do you plan any other changes to meetings this year?

Jensen: The audio and visuals are a tremendous improvement over the days in the old admin building or Edwards Park. Citizens love that they can view our meetings live or at their convenience on Facebook or YouTube. Our steaming meeting views are up dramatically since we started with these new options. In person, citizens will find the commissioners’ room bright, comfortable and accessible, so we encourage anyone to come see us at the courthouse, too.

DDC: The county landed some major economic development projects last year. Can you talk about them and what the county is doing to keep that momentum going?

Jensen: Our new approach to requiring expansions or new companies to pay for taxpayer-funded land wasn’t a popular change with some potential prospects, but we held our ground, pun intended. As a result, in 2022 we got fair market value and could recover taxpayers’ past investments. The other change was to discuss with new and existing companies our expectation that their salary ranges would boost our county median wage. Those were difficult conversations but ultimately brought higher-paying jobs.

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