McDONOUGH — Leaders in Henry are hoping to educate residents about the local government’s purchases of county property.
Henry Commission Chairman Elizabeth “B.J.” Mathis said efforts to increase transparency surfaced, in part, from inquiries by local residents about the county’s shortage of funds, and its struggles in balancing the budget.
Commissioners were recently given a presentation by county spokesperson Julie Hoover-Ernst regarding more than $60 million worth of property acquired by the county since 2004. The presentation also included suggestions about how commissioners might work to make their actions more transparent.
“In the mid-2000s, Henry County was one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, with the expectation that the population would more than double by 2030,” Hoover-Ernst said. “In planning for Henry County’s future, officials made several major land purchases, all in an effort to plan for that future growth. Although many of these purchases were made during the peak growth years between 2004 and 2008, many of the county’s plans regarding these land purchases have since been put on hold, due to the recession ...”
Mathis noted that “the majority of all the property purchases were made using [monies from] impact fees, grants, 911 funds, or Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds, that could not have been used to balance the budget.”
“Even in a down economy, we’ve been able to do a lot of good things for the county, thanks to these special funds, and they were not paid for out of the money that’s collected from property taxes,” added Mathis.
Hoover-Ernst said the $60 million was used to construct several necessary projects, including public safety facilities, libraries, recreation centers, parks and other public buildings.
“Of that $60 million, the county was able to purchase the properties by spending just 10 percent — or approximately $6 million — out of the general fund budget,” Hoover-Ernst emphasized.
During the workshop session, at which no votes were taken, Hoover-Ernst suggested the placement of a summary statement of purchases on the county’s website, “so that people can get on and review not only how much we paid for it, but who we purchased it from.”
The information officer also encouraged her bosses, “when you come back out following your discussion in executive session on a property acquisition ... not only say what the address of the property is, but to say what you are purchasing it for.” She said the action “would help to promote greater understanding and greater exposure, and help citizens to see that we have a reason for these properties, and we have a goal in mind.”
To view the presentation, visit www.henrycounty-ga.org.
“Viewers may also see the presentation in its entirety on Charter Cable TV 14. The meeting will air for the remainder of the month on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 9 a.m., 2 p.m., and 7 p.m.,” Hoover-Ernst said.