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SPLOST tax funds commingled by PSA, Commissioner Clark paid out of SPLOST funds

The PSA Board continues to grapple with the aftermath of the mismanagement for the future funding of the PSA’s services.

The Public Service Authority has suffered mismanagement under former director William Brunson, who was fired in the Spring for two counts of wire fraud for the purchase of two vehicles. Additionally, $1.5 million in back payroll taxes have not been paid. The GBI has completed a financial audit for which the District Attorney’s office and has not yet released.

Last week at a special called meeting, PSA finance director Nancy Gonzalez told the PSA Board that they will have to pay back the SPLOST sales tax account from the PSA’s general fund. Those funds have been unlawfully commingled or mixed with other expenditures. At that meeting, Gonzalez stated to the PSA Board she is unsure of how much has been mixed and additional audits may have to occur to find out the exact number.

Next SPLOST sales tax to be voted on by the citizens on March 2019

SPLOST- 8 discussions are underway and the voters will be asked to vote on the tax in March 2019 – December 15th is the deadline for the County Commissioners to finalize the ballot language for the voters.

The County Commission meets on Thursday at 4:30 pm to review the SPLOST 8 sales tax revenue projections at the County Commission Chambers in Woodbine. The PSA needs $3 million from the next SPLOST-8 sales tax to be approved to correct and update PSA facilities and the neglected parks. However, the three cities and the county still have not agreed as to how they will fund the PSA through the SPLOST model of funding. (The PSA Board is made up of the three city mayors and two county commissioners)

What is SPLOST ?

A Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) is an optional one percent county sales tax used to fund capital outlay projects proposed by the county government and participating qualified municipal governments. In general, county and municipal governments may not use SPLOST proceeds for operating expenses or maintenance of a SPLOST project or any other county or municipal facility or service.

According to records obtained by AllOnGeorgia-Camden, the SPLOST funds have been commingled and misused by the PSA.  AllOnGeorgia-Camden has confirmed these account numbers within the documents from the PSA’s Chart of Accounts via an Open Records Request.

Below is the SPLOST account between January 2016 to December 2016 –

In this document, the account number 54.2009 is a Capital Outlay fund totaling all the SPLOST projects expenditures.

Other documents show that certain services, such as weed eating, “outside maintenance”, payments to the local soccer club, other “purchase reimbursements” to employees and the former director himself, William Brunson, were dispersed all throughout the documents related to SPLOST Capital Outlay account 54.2009.  The document below shows other PSA employees, who are salaried, being paid out of the SPLOST account for extra work related to their duties. The expenditures mentioned in the document do not meet the definition of Capital Outlay in Georgia SPLOST law.

Capital outlay projects are defined by law as major projects which are of a permanent, long-lived nature, such as land and structures. They are expenditures that would be properly chargeable to a capital asset account as distinguished from current expenditures and ordinary maintenance expenses. The term expressly includes without limitation roads, streets, bridges, police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, garbage trucks, and other major equipment.

SPLOST HRG 2016

Other documents showing other expenses not related to Capital Outlay, account 54.200.

 

SPLOST HRG 17 18

In the document below, car allowances were given to employees of the PSA. According to Georgia SPLOST law, this is not a legal expense.

According to the documents obtained by AllOnGeorgia, between the years of 2012 to 2017, one employee received over $10,000 in a car allowance from the Capital Outlay fund (account 54.2009 SPLOST Capital Outlay). In addition, this employee was given “petty cash” and reimbursed for other expenditures.

 

County Commissioner and PSA Board member’s business paid out of SPLOST

In the documents spanning from 2016 to 2017, is the company known as Horizon Roads and Grounds, INC. This company is owned by County Commissioner Chuck Clark. Clark also is a member of the PSA Board.

In the SPLOST document, it says his company was reimbursed over $15,000 from the Capital Outlay fund. Clark, who is an elected official, shows no record of having a contract with the PSA as obtained in an Open Records Request. The Open Records Request from AllOnGeorgia-Camden asked for any and all contracts related to Horizon Roads and Grounds, and Horizon Landscaping. The PSA stated in an email that those records that “there were no existing documents.”

According to Georgia law (45-10-3) pertaining to government elected officials and boards –  “ Not engage in any business with the government, either directly or indirectly, which is inconsistent with the conscientious performance of his governmental duties;”

Clark’s business, known as Horizon Roads and Ground, INC, was administratively dissolved by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office for not filing current business fees in 2011.

AllOnGeorgia obtained a copy of his business licenses which is current with the county. Clark registered his business as “incorporated” and not “sole proprietor”.

AllOnGeorgia asked Clark about the SPLOST expenditures as well as his lack of filing with Secretary State’s office. Clark was also asked about his awareness of his payments from the PSA out of SPLOST funding.

“As far as the SPLOST, I didn’t know I was receiving funding from SPLOST,” said Clark.

Clark also explains why he did not file his business with the Secretary of State’s office.

“ I have filed in the past and I have tried to get it back for several months. I just let it lapse and when I let it lapse, I went to sole proprietor,” said Clark. “I have been working towards to getting it back. I just don’t want to have to re-incorporate and go through all of those steps. I got a letter from the state last year, and just never followed through; they never cashed the check I sent in…I did not file the right stuff.”

Clark said that he had trouble uploading his information to the Secretary of State’s website online; however, his brother Clay Clark’s business, Horizon Landscaping Inc, who is also a PSA employee, is current with the Secretary of State’s filing.

“To be honest with ya, I have not thought anything about it,” said Clark.

However, Clark’s business license says Horizon Roads and Grounds, INC (incorporated). This impacts the level of taxation that is paid to the local government and the state of Georgia. A sole proprietor is a person who is the exclusive owner of a business, entitled to keep all profits after tax has been paid but liable for all losses.

The Tribune and Georgia newspaper broke the story early on Thursday but was not able to contact Clark about this issue; however, Clark told AllOnGeorgia he was trying to get some information for them, but ran out of time.

“I was trying to get things together; I honestly did not know I was being paid from SPLOST,” Clark maintained.

The Tribune and Georgian reported the voting record on the contract bids for mowing, and AllOnGeorgia asked Clark if he had any idea that his voting was not ethical as a PSA Board member and County Commissioner.

“No, I’ve been doing work for [the PSA] for 12 years or more ; so no;  it did not even cross my mind,” said Clark. “I honestly didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. I was just asked to do the work and I did the work for them.”

Clark said he has been volunteering and working with the PSA for more than 20 years.

“William would call me and ask to do something, and I would go help. I was just trying to make the PSA better, ya know,” explained Clark.

Clark won re-election last week to continue another four years on the commission.

More laws in question –

Another Georgia law related to boards and authorities related to conflicts of interest state that such members cannot receive over $200 per quarter in the calendar year (OCGA 36-62A-1). Clark received over that as well as Commissioner Jimmy Starline, who is also a PSA Board member. Starline billed the PSA for services through his business. From 2016-2017, he had charged over $200 per quarter – Check #4697 dated for $625.00. The rest of the charges were below $376 for that year.

According to the SPLOST documents, Starline was not paid out of SPLOST, however, Starline was paid out of other accounts according to other accounting documents. AllOnGeorgia-Camden spoke to Starline last week and he stated that Finance Director Mike Fender monitors his amount for him. Fender was contacted by phone and messages were left to confirm this policy, but Fender never returned AllOnGeorgia’s calls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeremy Spencer grew up in rural South Georgia and has served as a healthcare provider, high school science teacher, school administrator, and state education official. Jeremy is currently the market and content manager for All on Georgia-Camden and Glynn Counties. Jeremy’s focus is local news, statewide education issues, and statewide political commentary for the All on Georgia News Network. Jeremy has served as an education policy analyst for local legislators and state education leaders as well as a campaign strategist for local and statewide political campaigns. Jeremy holds degrees in science and education from the University of Georgia, Piedmont College, and Valdosta State University. Jeremy has lived in Camden County for over 17 years.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sara Kolgaklis

    November 15, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    As owner of that photograph to the left of screen. I will Be filling copyright infringement laws against you unless you remove the image. Thank you. I hope you have a fabulous day.

  2. Avatar

    Jay Moreno

    November 15, 2018 at 7:15 pm

    Hopefully, county Animal Control can catch the dog that ate our two commissioners’ copies of both the Offical Code of Georgia Anotated and their copies of The Georgia Handbook for County Commissioneers.

  3. Avatar

    Jay Moreno

    November 16, 2018 at 7:45 am

    If memory serves me, Commissioner Clark was the very last commissioner to be “installed” on the county commisson by former hereditary sheriff, Bill Smith, while Smith was still in office. The next-to-last Smith installation was, of course, Charlene Sears. Are Clark and Smith kin?

    Starline was effectively recruited and installed by former commissioner Steve Berry as a sort of parting, stern tube shot by way of a well-timed departure date (one day after it was too late for the commission to appoint a replacement) and a pre-and psot-resignation endorsement of Starline.

    That kind of thing has gone on at all levels of government in this county (i.e., Bird greasing the skids for Nutter in St. Marys with the indentical tactic that Berry used to install Starline) for far too long.

  4. Avatar

    Jay Moreno

    November 24, 2018 at 9:32 am

    In addition to the $200.00 per quarter limitation in (OCGA 36-62A-1), it also states that in order to do so lawfully, an employee or elected official of a governmental entity in Georgia must submit a competitive bid, in response to a request for bids, and be awarded a contract as the result of said bid.

    If Jimmy Starline is the sole provider in Camden County of certain automotive parts, it would not be practical or cost effective to request bids per part. he would need to bid on the basis of a discount percentage off of his normal mark up, subject to verification via his invoices for his cost.

    Given that he has blown off a $3,700 violation as being insignificant to him, and given that the dealership in Brunswick is likely no farther from the county motor pool than his place next to Buck Addy’s, the simple solution is to henceforth buy those parts from Brunswick. If there is more than one such store in Brunswick, ask them for competitive bids as described above.

    The definitive solution to the Starline / Clark problem is of course up to the voters when next they run for re-election.

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