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Putnam County adopts new budget

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Goodwill gets green light on Harmony Road project

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    James Stiff of Goodwill Middle Georgia displays a drawing of the Helms College agri-tourism project on Harmony Road to the Putnam County Board of Commissioners prior to a formal vote approving the rezoning of the 71 acres for the project to move forward.

In front of a packed house at the Aug. 17 regularly scheduled meeting of the Putnam County Board of Commissioners, a 19-item agenda was handled in nearly three hours by the board including discussion of the 2022 county fiscal budget and the final approval of the Goodwill of Middle Georgia Harmony Road project.

The rezoning request of Goodwill of 71 acres on Harmony Road to be the future home of the Helms College agri-tourism initiative sailed through without any hitches. That didn’t come as a surprise as President James Stiff and his due diligence team has been steadfast in planning the project correctly and checking all the boxes along the way with every entity to make certain it was done correctly.

“Goodwill has been a poster child in putting this project together,” said BOC chairman Billy Webster. “I only wish other projects would follow their example and do the right things.”

Following the many months of hard work and a clear Goodwill vision of what needed to be done; Stiff said the organization was ready to move to the next phase which is the closing on the purchase of the land on Sept. 22.

“It feels like affirmation that this is the direction we are supposed to head to build this human and economic campus,” he said on Wednesday following the meeting. “Our due diligence team helped us look under the hood real good. Now, I feel like we are a good steward of Goodwill resources and I can go to my board of directors and say this was the right decision.”

After the land closing on Sept. 22, Goodwill will be applying for some infrastructure grants and also beginning a quiet phase of a fundraising campaign to try and raise $6 million that will augment the grants and the money Goodwill intends to borrow from their banking resources.

The discussion and public hearing on the proposed 2022 fiscal budget packed the commission chamber. County manager Paul Van Haute opened his presentation of the proposal on a rather somber but uplifting note as he recalled the long, difficult year as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the county but proceeded to steadfastly raise the spirits of those in attendance when he recognized the undying and dedicated work of county employees through the thick and thin of the last year.

“It has been a long and arduous year,” he said. “Our people made things go during the pandemic and they are to be commended.”

Indeed they were commended as Van Haute proposed a 4 percent cost of living wage increase across the board. In addition, the county agreed to roll the millage rate back by .57 mills.

Under the cost of living proposal, the price tag would be $439,000 while $250,000 from the American Rescue Plan fund was allocated for wage increases for Putnam General Hospita employees

The proposed budget had numerous line items to consider but perhaps none more vocalized than the financial plight of Putnam General Hospita (PGH).

The county initially proposed a budget of $425,000 as PGH requested an increase to $720,000 to help offset expenses incurred by a heavy debt load to Navicent Health and nearly $2.9 million in bad debt write-offs as a result of unpaid indigent and uncompensated care soaring.

“This amount doesn’t even cover half of our expenses,” said Pam Douglas of PGH.

Several citizens spoke on behalf of PGH getting the increase including longtime commissioner and hospital philanthropist Tom Thompson, whose family donated the land where PGH now stands.

“I understand your concern with balancing the budget,” he said. “As BOC Chairman beginning on Jan. 1, 2009 when the music stopped and there was economic panic across America, I well remember examining every aspect of county expenditures to provide needed services to our citizens at the least possible cost.

“I would like to commend you for continuing that conservative approach.”

Thompson presented a plan to retire PGH’s debt but pointed out how the county budget has increased over $5 million since 2012 (including 2022 proposal) but yet the PGH share has dropped $150,000 in the same time period while decreasing to $400,000 in 2012 and remaining constant until now.

Exponentially, the 6 percent interest being charged by Navicent Health on a $5 million bailout in 2015 has grown from $12,000 to $91,844 in 2021 resulting in interest being paid on interest.

Anita Morris, the Controller at PGH, pointed out that 80 percent of the bad debt came out of the emergency room from indigen and uncompensated care.

“It is treatment first, payment later,” she said.

There wasn’t a vote taken. Ten days later on Aug. 27 at a special called BOC meeting, the budget was adopted unanimously in the amount of $21,127,239. Although the BOC took time to consider the PGH plight, the BOC, across the board, approved an increase to $500,000 for the hospital.

General government received a budget of $4.1 million, judicial received $1.9 million, public safety got $10.2 million, public works came in at $2.3 million, health and welfare received $1.05 million, cultural and recreation got $1.2 million and development received $226,000.