BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – In a recent interview on FYNTV, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston made an announcement regarding the University of North Georgia’s (UNG) Blue Ridge campus.
Ralston confirmed in the interview that the state has set $5.5 million into a line item to establish a new standalone “brick and mortar” building for the university. The budgeted funds are set for construction only, meaning that the university will be responsible for locating and acquiring a spot suitable for the new campus. Once the college purchases the location, they can utilize the state funds for their new building to expand into that new home in Fannin County.
As such, the location of this facility is yet to be determined. According to Campus Director of Blue Ridge for UNG, Sandy Ott, she hopes to begin construction as soon as possible. Ott spoke with FetchYourNews (FYN) about the fund allocation saying, “We are thrilled with the opportunity to expand the Blue Ridge campus. We are so excited for the opportunities for the students in our region. This is going to have an impact, truly.”
Ott noted some of the major capabilities that a standalone campus will allow including expanded course offerings, lab spaces for sciences and core classes, as well as development space to cater to the region’s specific needs. While college officials are still searching for the best location at this time, Ott confirmed that they are still very early in the process and uncertain if the new standalone campus will see them completely leaving their current location just off of 515 at 83 Dunbarton Farm Road.
UNG has been at that location since 2015, offering opportunities such as dual-enrollment courses for high school students, a full-time program for first-time freshmen, courses for adult learners getting started or returning to college, and continued education programs.
With the passing of the state’s budget, this is now set for UNG to utilize when available. Ott assures FYN they are moving quickly to take advantage of the funds to increase their services as soon as possible for students. See more by checking out the announcement at 14 minutes into FYNTV’s video below.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Education (BOE) began 2018 by restructuring their board. This restructuring took place publicly at their Jan. 11 meeting.
An annual restructuring is in accordance with the BOE’s charter which states: “The Board of Education shall elect by majority vote at the first regular meeting of the calendar year a chairperson and vice-chairperson.”
The now former Chairman Bobby Bearden opened up the restructuring by saying, “Mr. Superintendent, I would like to recommend Mr. DeWeese as the chair.”
Bearden then made the motion for Lewis DeWeese to step in as chairman of the BOE, with board member Steve Stanley seconding the motion. The board voted unanimously for this change, with DeWeese refraining from voting.
Stanley then opened the floor to the selection of vice chairman, “Mr. Chairman, I would like to place a nomination for Mr. Chad Galloway.”
Stanley then made the motion for Chad Galloway to step in as vice chairman of the BOE, and fellow board member Terry Bramlett seconded this motion. Galloway abstained from voting, but was unanimously voted in by other members of the board.
The BOE discussed their meeting schedule and voted to keep the schedule the same for the 2018 calendar year.
“So for the public,” Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney explained, “this means that we will continue as is for this year, which is all regular meetings for the Fannin County Board of Education will be held on the second Thursday of each month.”
Gwatney added, “Monthly work sessions will be held on the Tuesday prior to each regularly scheduled board meeting at 8 a.m., and these meetings will be held here at this office in Blue Ridge. All meetings are open to the public.”
The newly arranged board then got straight to business reviewing the latest financial report for the Fannin County School System. The report showed the latest information as of Nov. 30, 2017, these numbers account for 41.66 percent of the annual 2017-2018 budget.
“Local revenues are at 22 percent ($4,037,844.60) versus 20 percent for this time last year. Total revenues are at 30 percent ($10,021,377.90) versus 29 percent this time last year, and total expenditures are currently at 40 percent ($13,589,826.95) versus 41 percent this time last year,” Gwatney pointed out.
Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds collected for November 2017 totaled $466,740.32.
“This is a healthy financial report,” Gwatney concluded.
Heather Finely, director of Instructional Technology, was present at the board meeting to present the public with the highlights of how the Fannin County School System is staying up-to-date with the ever changing world of technology.
Finely stated that she and her team are currently working on a three-year plan on how to approach technology advancements and how these advancements would best be utilized in Fannin County schools.
A major focus of this three-year plan is the use of WiFi technology in education. In a student survey conducted at the schools, 84 percent of students reported to have working Internet at their home, and 76 percent felt that they could do homework that requires Internet access. Only 11 percent of the students who responded said that they have no way to complete homework that requires Internet access.
Fannin County School System has been working to aid the students without any Internet access. Currently, five buses used by the county to transport students are equipped with WiFi capabilities.
Internet access in the schools is improving as well. “The state provides us with 750 mbs of Internet service. We purchase an additional 250 from TDS,” Finely explained of the Internet speed.
There are currently 108 WiFi access points in instructional areas throughout the schools. Finely hopes to up the number of WiFi access points in the schools, citing that the schools having cinder block walls slows the connections in some areas.
Finely aims to have tablets for every student to be able to use while in school: “We are working towards a one-to-one with Chromebooks.”
There are 1,749 mobile tablets currently available for students and teachers to use while at school. Finely pointed out that the school would also like to offer tablets for students to be able to take home for use. A grant has been applied for that would help to reach this goal.
“Right now, students in AP (advanced placement) take one home to use,” Finely spoke of the current use of mobile tablets.
The Fannin County Board of Education will hold their next regular meeting on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – At the Tuesday, Jan. 23, Fannin County Board of Commissioners meeting, county Board of Assessors member Troy Junnier presented the assessors’ case for two replacement vehicles for that department.
Junnier told the commissioners of the recent problems with two vehicles within the tax assessors’ fleet: a 2004 Ford Explorer with 190,252 miles and a 2003 Chevrolet 1500 four-wheel drive truck with 193,384 miles. According to Junnier, the county mechanic recommended that the Explorer be taken out of service due to a safety issue, as much of the sub-frame of this vehicle is badly rusted.
“There hasn’t been a price told (to) us as to how to fix (the Explorer) … It’s a 2004 Explorer. It’s got 190-something thousand miles on it , so it’s probably done,” Junnier stated.
As for the Chevrolet truck, Junnier explained that all six of the tax assessors fleet vehicles had recently been inspected by the county mechanic, considering issues related to the vehicle’s engine, chassis, transmission, brakes, steering and driveline, and the Chevrolet truck received a rating of 36 out of a 99-point scale. In addition to the low rating, Junnier stated to the commissioners that the truck suffered transmission issues immediately following its inspection, which has left the vehicle out of commission.
“We were told by (Public Works Director) Zack (Ratcliff), out at the (county garage), it’s going to be somewhere between $3,000 and $6,500 to repair (the Chevrolet truck),” Junnier said. “The value of that truck is $3,000 to $3,500, so it’s not worth throwing $3,000 at it or $6,500 at it to put it back out on the road.”
Junnier went on to say that both the Explorer and Chevrolet truck were “hand-me-down” vehicles, given to the tax assessors department from other county departments.
“Hand-me-down vehicles probably aren’t the way to go with a department that needs vehicles to run,” Junnier told the commissioners. “Both of those vehicles were probably at or near the end of their life cycles when we got them.”
Junnier continued to explain that the tax assessors department had requested additional funds in its budget for the last two years to purchase one extra vehicle to add to the fleet, but the approved budgets from the Board of Commissioners has not allowed that proposed vehicle purchase for the department.
“Obviously, you don’t think we need the extra (vehicle),” Junnier said to the commissioners, “but with these two going down and out of service, we’re asking if we can … immediately get two vehicles to replace the two that were taken out of service.”
He continued to explain other county departments, such as the Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Medical Services (EMS), occasionally utilize the tax assessors’ vehicles during periods of inclement weather because all of the vehicles within the department’s fleet are four-wheel drive. Junnier also alluded to the recently lifted consent order from the Georgia Department of Revenue on the county’s tax assessor department and the accompanying $130,000 fine.
“We’re at a point to where we have to do something to maintain our ability to work,” Junneir stated. “We’ve got to meet certain requirements put out to us by the state.”
Junnier lobbied for the purchase of new vehicles, rather than slightly used, because of the accompanying warranties. He told commissioners the tax assessors department had investigated the potential purchase of two new Jeep Wranglers because of the maneuverability of such vehicles and said quotes the department had received were $30,000 each for a base model, which Junnier admitted he thought was a high quote.
Later, Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton clarified that the tax assessors’ 2018 budget of approximately $848,000 is actually $54,000 more than the approximate amount of what was spent ($794,000) in the tax assessors department in 2017. Helton also questioned the reasoning behind the number of expenditures within the department that came later in 2017.
“What I don’t understand is we have purchases for chairs, we have purchases for laser measurers – which you may need – and computers. From about mid-to-late-November to December, there was something like $10,000 spent on things … if you needed them, why did you wait till the end of the year?” Helton asked.
Junnier told Helton the department prioritized the some of the less urgent expenditures until the end of the year so that the department would be sure to stay within its budget. He said, “When you prioritize things like that, you put things off until you know you’re going to have the money … The last thing you really want to do is come back to the Board (of Commissioners) and say, ‘Hey, we messed up. We don’t have the money we needed.'”
Helton clarified that the tax assessors department was currently borrowing one of the two vehicles designated for use by the Fannin County Land Development department and stated he did not foresee an issue with transferring that vehicle from land development to the tax assessors department provided that the vehicle was in good working condition.
Near the end of the discussion, Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson stated he did not want to give the tax assessors reason to fail and pointed out that the current Board of Assessors has a budget of nearly $300,000 more than the previous Board of Assessors from just a few years ago.
In response, Junnier told Johnson, ” With the numbers that are mandated by the state, we’re actually one appraiser, almost one appraiser, short. If you do the math, the requirements are that each appraiser can only (appraise) 2,500 to 3,500 parcels (a year). But we’ve got 27,000 (parcels) and a few more. If you do the math, that comes to up to like 7.7 appraisers. Well, we’ve got nine, two of which do personal property, so that leaves us seven to do real property.”
Then, Junnier clarified that the Board of Assessors is not asking for another employee but rather for dependable equipment to perform field appraisals.
To this, Johnson replied, “Cars have been an issue in this office almost since I’ve sat here (as post commissioner) … I don’t want tax assessors driving new vehicles. I don’t want them going to homes, driving nicer vehicles than those people paying taxes drive.”
Following this, Helton stated the 2017 budget for Gilmer County’s tax assessors department, which Helton pointed out is under a state consent order, stood at $812,000 and Junnier responded by describing that county’s department as “clowns.” Helton also explained Pickens County’s tax assessors’ budget was $578,000 and Union’s was $318,000. The chairman further noted that the 2017 Fannin tax assessors budget was nearly $1,020,000.
“So they can’t all be ‘clowns,'” Helton said, referring to the surrounding counties’ tax assessors departments. “Why would this Board of Commissioners be attacked (by) saying that we’re cutting you and draining you when we’ve actually approved $54,000 more than you’ve spent last year? … We don’t need an antagonistic relationship with the tax assessors. We need realism.”
After Junnier told Helton the only budget cut he had mentioned was the proposed funds for an additional vehicle, the discussion again returned to resolving the Board of Assessors vehicle situation. As a board, Helton, Johnson and Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee agreed they were collectively not if favor of purchasing a new vehicle for the assessors. For a tentative plan, the board agreed to transfer the aforementioned land development vehicle to the tax assessors pending a thorough inspection by Ratcliff and the public works department. As for a second vehicle, Helton then explained to Junnier that if the tax assessors could present more specific and adequate information regarding the potential purchase of a dependable, used vehicle, the Board of Commissioners could make a decision at its next meeting on Feb. 13.
“Let’s get this vehicle situation straightened out because I, for one, am sick of hearing about it,” Johnson added.
When Junnier asked about the possibility of adding a seventh vehicle to fleet at a later date, Johnson stated, “I’m for two vehicles total (and) never hear about it again.”
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Senate Gets Down to Business
By: Sen. Steve Gooch (R – Dahlonega)
Although the Senate was in session for only two days this week, my colleagues and I were very busy under the Gold Dome addressing budget proposals and a key piece of legislation on the Senate Floor.
The week started with Joint Senate and House Appropriations hearings on the Amended FY18 and General FY19 budgets. Governor Deal kicked off the hearings which included several different agencies presenting their budget proposals. I am happy to say that the state’s budget continues to be in good shape, with the General FY19 budget topping $26 billion for the first time. The General FY19 budget proposals were drafted with an estimated 2.9 percent state fund growth and around 3.8 percent tax revenue growth over the Amended FY18 revenue estimates. Included in the General FY19 budget are increases in funding for education and transportation.
The General FY19 budget addresses the needs for the state to meet determined employer contributions within the Teachers Retirement System with a proposed increase of around $364 million. Additionally, around $120 million would be appropriated for enrollment growth and training. Along with these positive changes in the General FY19 budget, an important proposal in the Amended FY18 budget is adding $15 million to purchase 194 school buses statewide. This will positively impact our students by ensuring that buses are not overcrowded.
The state’s growing need to address transportation infrastructure is also addressed in the General FY19 budget. An additional $31.6 million in projected revenues resulting from House Bill 170 – passed during the 2015 Legislation Session – will be added to the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) budget. I am very happy to see that a piece of legislation we passed a couple of years ago is still making positive impacts for GDOT.
Along with attending the budget hearings and carefully reviewing the proposals for the Amended FY18 and General FY19 budgets, my colleagues and I took up a very important piece of legislation in Senate Chamber. On Thursday, the Senate passed the Supporting and Strengthening Families Act, also known as the Adoption Bill, or HB 159. This bill passed with bipartisan support and is now headed over to the House of Representatives for their review. Final passage of this legislation and a signature into law by the Governor would allow our state to update our adoption system which has been the same for nearly 30 years.
The Senate’s version of HB 159 clarifies many of the laws regarding who can adopt, who can act as a legal guardian and the rights held by the biological parents before and after giving their child up for adoption. Additionally, the version the Senate passed on Thursday states that if an agency is not involved in a private adoptive process, living expenses cannot be paid. The only expenses that can be paid in a private adoption are medical and counseling. These are just some of the highlights of the Senate version of HB 159. As this legislation moves through the legislative process, my colleagues and I will work with the Governor and House of Representatives to ensure there is cooperation to address concerns anyone may have. It is imperative that we pass this legislation so that we can assist the large number of children who are in foster care and need a loving and stable home.
The pace of the session is going to pick up quickly with standing committees beginning to hold meetings next week to vet legislation pending from last year along with new bills introduced this year. As we move forward in the session, please do not hesitate to reach out with questions, concerns and feedback. It is always great to hear from my constituents and our door is always open.
BLUE RIDGE, GA – Fannin County Board of Commissioners held their final meeting for this month on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. Among the items on the agenda, County Commissioners addressed the issue of the County Roads Moratorium. There was public commentary that addressed both sides of the issue the county faces when deciding to adopt or remove roadways from its care.
Citizens were there to ask Fannin County to consider adopting Phase 1 of the My Mountain Community into its county road system for maintenance and upkeep, citing that this phase of the community has been in existence for almost 20 years. On the opposite side of the discussion, citizens expressed concern on current county roads that they feel have been neglected. Post Commissioner Earl Johnson urged the Board to use caution when adopting new roads into the system, wanting first for the county to obtain proper inspections and right of ways before making any decision. Fannin County Post Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee and Commission Chairman Stan Helton agreed with this assessment. While voting to continue the county road moratorium, there was also a unanimous decision to work on current roads in the system before accepting new roads.
Ken Petty, Fannin County Maintenance Department Head, addressed the Board seeking approval for three issues needing financial payment from the county. He presented cases for $5,340.00 to replace a compressor on the commercial Trane air conditioning unit at the jail, $19,160.00 for improvements to the Animal Control Facility located on Fannin Industrial Park, and roof repair at the county maintenance building.
Petty was only able to present one bid on the broken compressor at the jail. When questioned by Post Commissioner Earl Johnson on failure to receive further bids, Petty stated that no one he contacted in Fannin County was willing to work on the unit. Johnson further questioned Petty as to why he was not providing the county or the bidder with a proper scope of work, and both agreed in the future that this documentation will be provided. Ultimately the board agreed to address and fix the issue of the air conditioning since it is essential to the jail’s day to day operations, but opted to table the other two issues until further documentation and bids could be obtained.
Commissioners expanded the Board of Assessors through resolution and praised the three current appointees for bringing the county up to compliance with the State of Georgia. The expansion will bring the current board of three members up to a state allotted five member board. The board unanimously voted to appoint former Superintendent Mark Henson to a four year term on the Board of Assessors, and Troy Junnier to serve a three year term. Chairman Helton felt that the addition of these two individuals based on their experience and knowledge of the county would keep operations within the Board running smoothly for years to come.
Marie Woody with Land Development informed the board that all requirements were met to move forward with condemnation of property located at 188 Riverside Lane. The cost of removing the structure would be approximately $7,500.00 and approval was granted to advance this project. This property will be the fifth this year to be condemned and removed. Discussion was also held about the Scrap Tire Management Grant that was obtained from the State of Georgia. Post Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee wants to focus on where the man power will come from to complete this project and does not want to tax an already short handed Road Department of the county.
Finance Director Robin Gazaway presented the public with year to date financial information showing that the county is currently $1,675,006 under budget for the fiscal year 2017. Out of the county’s $27,131,207 yearly budget expenditures, actual amounts show that $12,975,846 has been spent.
Most county departments reported staying within or under their current budget amount as of July 18th. Administration was the only department reporting an overage with their current rate of spending at 72.9%. For departments to fall under budget their current rate should be below 54%. When questioned as to why this number was so high, Gazaway explained that new county policy requires all insurance claims be filed under a single department, and that they were working on an amendment that would create a new line item to reflect changes in this policy.
Blue Ridge City Council held its regular meeting on April 11th 2017.
First up on the action items which required approval of the Council began with talk of a budget to do some major upgrades to city streets, city park, downtown gazebo and more. Rodney Kendall made a motion which carried, to have Council Member Angie Arp discuss the project.
Arp said at the last meeting she had presented a list she thought should be completed for the betterment of the community. She expressed after speaking with other council members she then worked with Alicia (Finance Director Alicia Stewart) to put together a budget.
She also stated she had revised the list to reflect what she understood other council members wanted done with the money the council “specifically saved” to do these projects. It appeared Council Member Rhonda Thomas felt the City should spend money on necessary items such as, parking issues, sidewalk issues, flooding issues, and a broken backhoe.
The vote for was Angie Arp, Bruce Pack and Rodney Kendall and against was Rhonda Thomas with Harold Herndon abstaining stating he was torn and he believed there was more pressing items around town. Arp then made a motion which carried to approve an $829,000 budget.
The council ultimately voted to allow Arp to move forward with the projected budget by obtaining quotes for the various items listed.
The council approved an estimate of $25,440 for 12 park benches and trash cans to be placed at the park and downtown. Also approved $25,617.74 for security cameras for the water plant.
The meeting moved into discussion on security cameras and water purchase agreements. The Council moved and approved on turning over the water to Fannin County Water Authority. This is the first step for allowing water issues to be handled outside of the authority of the City. A motion carried to allow Carter & Sloope to further the contract for a pump station at Trackside Lane.
The council agreed to release the contract on a forest service lane due to a lack of money, stating perhaps the County would move forward on the property since it would be a great place for a convention center. Moving along saw approval of Gates (wooden) at Roberts Way & Depot street.
Purchasing approval was made on a Carter & Sloope invoice for $9,060.44. Purchases for fire hydrant locks and repair of Calliope were put on hold. The City is hoping if anyone knows about repair of the Calliope (player piano) to please come forward. It is on the back of a fire truck which is used in parades.
Discussion items only were regarding adding lighting to Roberts Way and also the park, burn permits, City park, and project list.
Public comments were made by Cesar Martinez and Nicole Potzoff. Executive session was held to discuss hiring personnel for the City Park.
Since taking office in 2009, Sheriff Kirby has operated your Sheriffs Office with the lowest budget of any of the surrounding Counties.
Keeping costs low has always been a priority of this administration. It is our goal to keep the size and cost of your Sheriff’s Office in proportion with the needs of our County. Below is the last 3 years budget numbers for Fannin, Gilmer and Union County Sheriff’s Offices.
2014 Union Gilmer FANNIN
$2,099,599 $2,839,865 $1,750,436 (Spent $1,664,457)
2015 Union Gilmer FANNIN
$2,357,779 $3,035,065 $1,773,731 (Spent $1,680,463)
($258,180 increase) ($195,200 increase) ($23,295 increase)
2016 Union Gilmer FANNIN
$2,496,348 $3,246,028 $1,781,151
($138,569 increase) ($210,963 increase) ($7,420 increase)
For historical purposes, the Fannin County Sheriff’s Office 2010 budget was $1,623,013.
That shows an increase of $158,138 over a 6 year period. As you can see, our surrounding Counties budgets increase almost that same amount or substantially more EVERY SINGLE YEAR.
Not only have we been able to keep our budget numbers very low, but we continuously spent UNDER BUDGET year after year.
State Senator Steve Gooch of District 51 talks legislation for Georgia and Voting Questions.