Employees of Upson County will now catch a break when working towards being vested for their retirement, with the Board of Commissioners unanimously voting to lower the number of years it takes from 10 to seven. At last week’s commission meeting, County Manager Jim Wheeless told the board the number of years needed to be vested is lower in the surrounding counties and if Upson followed suit, it could be an incentive for employees to stay on board.
“When searching this, we found the City (of Thomaston) is seven years to be vested. Pike County is at five years, Spalding County is at five years and Fayetteville has three, but they have a different retirement system than we do,” said Wheeless. “Employee benefits around us have dropped to at least five years (to be vested), so I’m recommending we do an amendment to our retirement plan that would change vesting from 10 years to seven years. Sometimes it is an incentive for someone to stay here longer, rather than go somewhere else.”
Wheeless added that the actual cost of doing this would be around $5,800 per year, which is a minimal cost for the county. He also noted that to make this work with the county’s payment plan, then it needs to retroactively go into effect for July 1, 2015. The commissioners agreed that it was a good idea to change the number of years and passed the amendment with a 5-0 vote.
Wheeless also brought up the idea of giving employees who have been with the county for 15 years or more an additional week of vacation, which would mean they would have four weeks per year of paid vacation for full time employees. Currently, full time county employees receive one week vacation after being employed for one year; two weeks after two years; 96 hours (or 12 days) after five years and three weeks after 10 years. Wheeless stated that when he met with the employee committee the county has, this was an idea that came up as a way to help compensate those who have been with the county for quite some time. He added that the employees have not received a raise in four years and it seems in the past when they have received one; insurance rates have gone up at the same time and taken most of the extra amount they would have brought home. Commissioner Frank Spraggins stated he felt it was reasonable to add the extra week of vacation, noting that is the same amount most governments offer. The board took no action on the matter at the meeting and plans to discuss it at an upcoming work session on October 6 before making a decision.
During the meeting, Commissioner Steve Hudson brought up a concern he has had from several citizens who live on Sandy Brooke Circle, located off of Burkett Road on the north side of town. Hudson stated residents are concerned about commercial trucks coming through their neighborhood to get to a chicken farm located behind the subdivision property, stating it will cause not only noise and air pollution, but it could also tear up the road that leads to their homes. Originally, the Wilsons, who own the chicken farm, used the driveway of Mrs. Brenda Wright, who formerly owned the chicken farm, to access their property. However, now Mrs. Wright does not want the Wilsons using her driveway, therefore, they have purchased a lot in the subdivision and are in the process of placing a driveway on the land to use to get to their property. Several neighbors in the subdivision feel this will negatively affect the value and ability to sell their houses in addition to the aforementioned issues. Commissioner Hudson stated he had talked with Planning and Zoning Director Doug Currier and Road Superintendent James Melton and neither of them were aware of any county ordinance or code that prohibits commercial traffic in a residential neighborhood, so essentially, there is nothing the county can do. Currier was present at the meeting and stated it is not uncommon for counties or cities to have an ordinance in place to prohibit commercial traffic in residential areas, so that is something the county may want to look into in the future.
Commissioner Frank Spraggins told the board he had heard from many senior citizens who were interested in attending a basic computer skills class and would like some computers to be set back up at the Senior Center. Spraggins stated he was told by one lady that the Civic Center was no longer offering classes due to a lack of funding. He asked Wheeless to look into the matter and see what could be done.
In other business, Wheeless told the board Murphy Clearing and Grading Incorporated was the low bid to do the clean-up work at the Pobiddy Road landfill. The company will clean up the area according to EPD standards and had bid $94,930 for the job.
The Hightower Memorial Library will soon be renovated with new flooring put in and be painted inside and out. Marty Murphy Contracting will be doing the painting and bid $19,870 for the project and Middle Ga. Carpets will be doing the floor covering and bid $19,259 for the project. The county is funding these projects through the SPLOST.
Finally, Sandra Chambles addressed the board about the water bill situation in Lincoln Park during the public comment portion of the meeting. She stated she knew Chris Biggs had already spoken to the board about the situation, but she wanted to come and put a face to the problem for the board. Chambles stated her bill has gone up over 65 percent in the last two months and an increase like that is devastating to her budget and those of her neighbors in the area. She added that most people in the neighborhood are retired and on a fixed income and simply cannot afford for the rates to go up so much and she hoped the county would be able to do something about it soon. Commissioner Hudson stated the county is having an engineer look at a location for a well in the area, so the county could supply the water itself instead of buying it from the City of Thomaston. However, if a well is possible, it has already been recommended that an overhead water tank would be needed, which would take at least half of the money the county has designated for the project in the SPLOST. Hudson stated there is roughly $300,000 for a water system down there in the 2011 SPLOST and nearly $1 million in the 2016 SPLOST for water projects, if it passes.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1