Food Allergy Awareness Week in Blue Ridge, Fannin County May 13-19

Community

[Featured image: Mayor Donna Whitener, seated, signs a proclamation declaring May 13 through 19 to be Food Allergy Awareness Week in Blue Ridge. Seen here at the proclamation signing are, from left to right, Abigail Baliles, Jennifer Addington, Whitener, and City Clerk Kelsey Ledford.]

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Blue Ridge Mayor Donna Whitener and Fannin County Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton both signed a proclamations Wednesday, May 2, declaring May 13 through 19 to be Food Allergy Awareness Week in the city of Blue Ridge and in Fannin County.

According to the proclamations, “An estimated 15 million people in the United States have food allergies, including 6 million children under the age of 18.”

In addition, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates food allergies result in over 200,000 ambulatory care visits per year involving children under 18. “Reactions typically occur when an individual unknowingly eats a food containing an ingredient to which they are allergic,” the CDC states.

A copy of the proclamation signed Wednesday, May 2, by Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton declaring May 13 through 19 to be Food Allergy Awareness Week in Fannin County.

On hand for the proclamations was Jennifer Addington, local resident and co-founder of the Northeast Georgia Food Allergy Support Group (NGFASG), and her daughter Abigail Baliles. Increasing allergy awareness in Fannin, Gilmer and Union counties, the NGFASG is formally recognized by Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) and Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT), both nationally trusted sources of food allergy information in the United States.

Abigail, a seventh-grader at Fannin County Middle School, suffers from egg, peanut and tree nut allergies, which are three of the eight most common food allergies, according to FARE. “Nine out of 10 allergic reactions in the U.S. occur from milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish,” FARE states.

Addington said although Abigail’s allergies were detected early in her life, the severity of her daughter’s allergies at times can affect the normalcy of a typical middle school aged child, citing school functions such as taking field trips as one common activity where her the safety of her daughter has to be closely considered.

Symptoms of allergic reactions can be mild or severe. Mild symptoms can include a breakout of hives, eczema, redness of skin around the eyes, itchy mouth or ear canal, nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain, nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, odd tastes in the mouth, and/or uterine contractions. Severe symptoms can include obstructive swelling of the throat, lips and/or tongue, problems swallowing, shortness of breath, turning blue, a decrease in blood pressure, feeling faint, confused and/or weak, loss of consciousness, chest pain, and/or a weak pulse.

“Severe symptoms, alone or in combination with milder symptoms, may be signs of anaphylaxis and require immediate treatment,” FARE explains. “Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that comes on quickly, often impacts the whole body, and may cause death.”

The proclamation encourages increased awareness of the causes and symptoms of food allergies and anaphylaxis among the citizens of Blue Ridge and Fannin County.

For more information on how one can support the Northeast Georgia Food Allergy Support Group (NGFASG), contact Jennifer Addington at jennifer@northeastgafoodallergy.org or visit the website at www.northeastgafoodallergy.org.

For more information on food allergies, visit the FARE website at www.foodallergy.org.

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

 

 

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

‘Misinformation,’ tiny homes addressed by commissioners

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – During the Tuesday, April 24, Fannin County Board of Commissioners meeting, the board discussed what was described as “misinformation” circulating throughout the county and put a six-month moratorium on tiny homes in the county.

Immediately following public commentary, Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee took a moment to address recent comments circulating in the community that suggest the county needs to create a five-year comprehensive plan. Sosebee clarified the county already has a 10-year joint comprehensive plan in place together with the municipalities of Blue Ridge, McCaysville and Morganton, which was created under the guidance of the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission (NWGRC).

“Without this document (comprehensive plan) right here, we couldn’t get grants. We couldn’t have got the water grant we got. We couldn’t get LMIG (Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant) money to research the roads,” Sosebee added.

Sosebee also stated the source of these comments estimated the population of Fannin County would reach 40,000 within the next few years.

“Well, that’s a lot of people for a county that’s surrounded by forest service land and can’t contain that many people,” Sosebee said.

According to the NWGRC, as noted by Sosebee, Fannin’s population is expected to peak at 24,349 by 2030.

Chairman Stan Helton explained the 10-year comprehensive is a 161-page document that is available to the public through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs at the www.dca.ga.gov.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson stated, “I know sometimes people accidentally spread misinformation, but I want everyone to realize that when you speak information as if it’s true, it affects people who are serving this county. And I don’t like it reflecting negatively on me, myself, that this county doesn’t have a plan in place.”

Later, county Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham, Fire Chief Larry Thomas, EMA Deputy Director Darrell Payne, and Deputy Director of E911 Patrick Cooke came to the podium as County Attorney Lynn Doss opened three sealed bids for the purchase of three specialized desks for 911 dispatchers at the forthcoming public safety complex on Windy Ridge Road.

As Doss opened the bids, two were revealed to be duplicates bids from Watson Consoles, of Matthews, North Carolina. The Watson bid was for a total of $49,739.23, which includes $37,116.23 for the product, $9,517 for installation, and $3,106 for freight.

The other bid, from Xybix, of Littleton, Colorado, gave a total of $44,257.42, which includes $2,314.74 for sales tax, $4,100 for freight, and $4,775 for installation. Doss explained because the county is tax exempt, the total cost of the Xybix bid would more accurately be just under $42,000.

After Johnson asked Graham if EMA would need to review the specifications of the bids and the director affirmed that the department would, the bids were tabled to the next meeting for approval.

Following this, the conversation again turned to “misinformation,” this time concerning the Fannin County EMA and Fire Department (FCFD).

Certificate of Compliance from the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Counsel for Fannin County Fire Department.

“As stated earlier, there’s been some misinformation out in the public,” Graham said, “that our fire department may not be in compliance with state and federal standards, and I just want to clear that up a little bit. We are in complete compliance with Georgia Fire Safety Training Center, which is the organization that certifies fire departments in the state of Georgia. We actually have a certificate hanging on the wall at each fire station to say that we’re in compliance.”

Showing the one of the certificates to the commissioners, Graham explained although the certificate is dated 2004, the certification remains with the department unless that department becomes non-compliant. Though Graham admitted the department does rely heavily on volunteer firefighters, FCFD has “30 full-time paid employees whose duties include fire fighting, and we have never had a fire call go unanswered.”

Graham also stated the EMA currently has seven total ambulances, four of which are on-duty ambulances and three are make-up ambulances.

After Helton asked about the prospect of doubling the number of firefighters and the cost involved, both Director Graham and Chief Thomas estimated the added cost would be around $1.5 million annually for personnel along with further costs for facility upgrades.

“It’s a shame – by one person spewing misinformation – it is a shame that you have to stand here and talk about this,” Commissioner Johnson told Graham, Thomas, Payne and Cooke. “They know that we’ve had plans, they know exactly that we are state-certified … It’s a shame to me that you have to stand here and defend yourselves over something that one person in an interview just felt like he had to say … All of you have been in government a long time. It’s just election time … I appreciate you all coming up here taking your time and explaining, trying to make the people feel comfortable again.”

In other business, Chief Land Development Officer Marie Woody addressed the board on the prospect of enacting a tiny home ordinance. At the April 10 commissioners meeting, Woody and the board opened a discussion regarding tiny homes but tabled that discussion to the next meeting.

A finished, prefabricated tiny home.

On Tuesday, Woody stated Fannin is one of only four counties (Fannin, Lumpkin, Towns and Union) north of Cherokee County, Georgia, that has not passed some form of zoning. She also added that in surveying 15 nearby counties, none of the counties have specific ordinances on tiny homes and eight are currently considering tiny home ordinances, but of those eight, most have not yet decided on the square footage requirements.

Helton stated one subdivision development for tiny homes was already in the works in the county.

“We do not want to pull the rug out from under him with the investment he’s already made,” Helton said of the developer of the proposed subdivision, “but as we go forward, the concern would be that we don’t want something that is going to negatively affect other property owners in Fannin County.”

When asked about the minimum size of lots currently allowed by the county, Woody stated for a fresh tract of land with its own water and sewer system, lots could be subdivided as small as a one-third (0.33) of an acre though land development recommends no less than a 0.55-acre lot. For separate lots with water wells and septic systems, Woody explained the county recommends between 1.33-acre and 1.5-acre lots.

Johnson stated he was not so much concerned with the size of tiny homes as he was with the size of lots within potential developments and subdivisions for tiny homes.

Helton proposed to the post commissioners the idea of placing a moratorium on building tiny home subdivisions and developments and asked the commissioners for input on an exact time frame for the moratorium. After discussion, it was decided and approved unanimously to enact the moratorium for six months beginning July 1, 2018.

Robin Gazaway, county finance director, presented the monthly budget update for the county through March 31. Overall, according to Gazaway, the county is 25 percent through the fiscal year and 22 percent of its budget has been expended, leaving the county $829,415 under budget.

Departments seeing significant under-budget amounts were Public Roads ($557,168 under budget), Sheriff’s Office ($89,520 under), and Recreations ($27,148 under). Gazaway stated two departments were currently over budget – Fire/EMS/EMA ($34,983 over budget) and Tax Assessors ($18,257 over). She explained Fire/EMS/EMA was over budget because of an ambulance purchase early in the year and the Tax Assessors department was over budget because of the purchase of two vehicles but added that both departments are expected to balance out before the end of the year. The Recreation department was reported to have a $80,768 revenue, which Gazaway stated was due to the collection of gate receipts and increased concessions.

Also, Gazaway said both Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) and Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) collections were up for the year as of March 31. LOST collections, according to Gazaway, stood at $916,490.42 compared to $867,439.17 in the first quarter of 2017. SPLOST collections were $1,209,712.71 as opposed to $1,145,146.18 last year.

After an executive session, the commissioners reconvened and approved three decisions.

The board approved a filing in Superior Court to abate a public safety nuisance on Ada Street. Last month, the board unanimously approved a property on Ada Street to be dilapidated and for it to be condemned.

Also, the board approved to forward with bringing an unauthorized junkyard on Mobile Road into compliance with county ordinances.

Lastly, the board granted Rene Hamby’s transfer to the Public Works department and approved the hiring of Lauren Hein as the new human resources director for county government.

[Featured image: Members of the Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and Fire Department display a Certificate of Compliance from the state. Seen here are, from left, EMA Deputy Director Darrell Payne, Fire Chief Larry Thomas, Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham, and Deputy Director of E911 Patrick Cooke.]

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

 

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Bearden is new assessors chairperson, Junnier vice chairman

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Assessors (BOA) took on a slightly different look Friday, March 23, at their monthly meeting.

The BOA opened the meeting by welcoming local business owner Angelina Powell to the board. At the Feb. 27 Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting, Powell was nominated by BOC Chairman Stan Helton and appointed unanimously by the BOC to succeed former BOA Chairman Lane Bishop, whose seat on the BOA expired Feb. 28.

Next, the floor was opened for nominations for chairperson of the BOA, and board member Troy Junnier nominated Janie Bearden with a second coming from board member Anthony Holloway. Bearden was approved unanimously to serve as chairperson of the BOA. Board member Mark Henson was not present at the meeting.

Near the end of the meeting, Bearden put forth the idea of electing a vice chairperson to serve on the board and nominated Junnier for this position. Junnier was approved unanimously as vice chairman. To this, Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran explained Bearden had previously consulted with County Attorney Lynn Doss about the prospect of adding a vice chair position on the board and, according to Cochran, Doss confirmed there were no legal obstacles to hinder such a move.

Former Chairman Bishop delivered on his word given at the Feb. 27 BOA called meeting to attend future tax assessors meetings as a member of the public. After sitting through a three-hour meeting, Bishop made a brief statement to the BOA in the public commentary portion of the meeting and gave a typed letter to each member of the board as well as members of the media.

“I do appreciate this board,” Bishop stated. “I really do, but you all have got an awesome job, more than you may think. I think you are beginning to see this is pretty complex and convoluted sometimes. But you all use your good common sense, and you don’t let somebody else tell you how to vote, please.”

In his letter to the board members, Bishop put forth three main petitions to the BOA:

  • “Please finish the reassessment of the remaining 10,000 parcels that has not been done. The other taxpayers are not being treated fairly if this is not done;
  • “Please do not allow this department to go back to the ‘good old boys’ state we found it in years ago; (and)
  •  “The Board of Commissioners have no authority over this department even though they do control the budget as I was reminded of many times.”

Concerning the budget, Cochran presented the board with a brief budget review for this year. Cochran stated thus far the actual BOA budget is in line but did point out a $40,000 expenditure listed under the capital outlay equipment line item. This amount is $25,000 over the $15,000 budgeted amount for this line item. According to Cochran, the amount accounts for the February purchases of two 2016 Ford Escapes at $20,000 each. Cochran said she had discussed the line item amount with county Finance Director Robin Gazaway recently.

“(Gazaway) didn’t seem to think it would be a problem. She would explain to the auditors that these are two vehicles at $20,000 a piece,” Cochran explained.

The maps and aerial line item also shows an over-budget amount, standing at $30,524.41. Only $24,000 is budgeted for maps and aerial; however, the amount covers this year’s Pictometry LiDAR mapping project of the county, and the BOA is expected to receive compensation from other county departments as well as municipalities throughout the county that will be benefiting from the mapping.

One of those county departments that participated in the Pictometry mapping project contract was the E-911 department. Cochran explained a slight adjustment to that contract needed to be amended and approved by the BOA as E-911 cannot use the format produced by the project and Pictometry will have to produce a different type of format for the E-911 department to use. The amended contract was approved unanimously.

The board also approved a $1,400 invoice from forester Baker Allen, a registered forester who was recently contracted by the BOA to complete the 2018 timber valuation. According to Cochran, Allen worked a total of 70 hours at $20 an hour during the timber valuation.

“Counties are paying thousands to have this done,” Cochran added. “(This is) saving Fannin County a lot of money.”

A $3,000 invoice for uniforms was also approved by the BOA. Cochran explained the department annually budgets $3,000 for uniforms for its employees.

The board also approved a contract with Harris Govern to print and mail the 2018 notice of assessments (NOAs) to county property owners at the rate of 52 cents per NOA. Cochran estimated this year there will be around 31,600 NOAs, which will cost the BOA approximately $16,400 for the service from Harris Govern. The tax assessors department has attempted to complete the task of printing and mailing the NOAs itself in years past, but given the cost of paper, ink and man hours, Cochran said, “This (service) is very beneficial for our county.”

The BOA approved an update from the state for Kelley Blue Book values to be uploaded into the WinGap computer-assisted appraisal program for motor vehicle data. Cochran explained this data assists the board in making decisions for vehicle appeals that come before the board from owners.

 

 

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Additional grant pursued for Horseshoe Bend Park

Community, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Fannin County Parks and Recreation Director Eddie O’Neal sought approval from the Board of Commissioners (BOC) at the Feb. 27 meeting to apply for a grant in hopes improving Horseshoe Bend Park.

“We would like to get approval to approach the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC),” O’Neal appealed to the board.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Parks and Recreation, Eddie O'Neal , Board of Commissioners, Chairman Stan Helton, Post 1 Commissioner, Earl Johnson, Post 2 Commissioner, Larry Joe Sosebee, Horseshoe Bend Park, Appalachian Regional Commission, Recreational Trail Grant, Northwest Regional Commission, Tamen Park, mowing contract, Nichole Potzauf, Executive Director of Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association, BRMAA, Youth Art Month, University of North Georgia, Appalachian Studies Program, Blue Ridge Scholars, Board of Assessors, Angelina Powell, Lane Bishop, Fannin County Emergency Management Agency, EMA, Robert Graham, Fannin County Finance Director, Robin Gazaway

A view of the Toccoa River from Horseshoe Bend Park.

This grant is in addition to a state-funded Recreational Trail Grant that the county applied for in 2017. The state-funded grant would provide Fannin County with up to $200,000 and the county would be responsible for 20 percent of the funding ($40,000).

The additional grant would be federally funded and provide Fannin County with up to $300,000. The county would be responsible for 30 percent of this funding ($90,000).

Commission Chairman Stan Helton explained how the information of this new grant came about: “The folks at the Northwest Regional Commission, which are the folks that are conduit for the Recreational Trail Grant called me sometime ago.”

“They felt that the odds (of receiving the ARC grant) were equal to or better (than that of getting the Recreational Trail Grant),” Helton added.

Helton explained that the county would not have to take both grants if both were awarded, but applying for the two grants would improve the county’s odds of getting funding for projects at Horseshoe Bend Park.

The board unanimously voted in favor of applying for this additional grant.

O’Neal updated the BOC on news from the Recreation Department: “Our registration for spring sports is up about 8 percent.”

This increase in registration seems to be a steady pattern with the Recreation Department showing an increase in both 2016 and 2017.

The BOC was presented with bids for 2018 mowing contracts. These contracts include mowing and restroom upkeep for Horseshoe Bend and Tammen parks.

There was a total of four bids presented, with $2,200 per month being the high bid and $1,800 per month being the low bid.

O’Neal stated, “I’m fine with the lowest bid. I think if we do that, it should be a 30-day trial.”

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee had reservations about going with the lowest bidder: “This last mowing season, I had more complaints come through my door.”

Sosebee acknowledged that when the company who submitted the highest bid had the county’s contract he received little to no complaints.

“When you don’t hear people complaining, you know the work is good,” Sosebee added to his thoughts.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson recommended tabling the vote for the mowing contract until the companies submitting the bids could be further researched.

Helton recused himself from discussion due to having on-going business with one of the bidders, and both post commissioners agreed to discuss the contracts at a later date.

Nichole Potzauf, executive director of Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association (BRMAA), spoke of happenings at the Art Center.

In 2017, approximately 41,000 guests enjoyed the exhibits and classes at the Art Center, and it is estimated the BRMAA had an economic impact of $618,000 in our area and $1.2 million for our region.

Currently, the Art Center is hosting Youth Art Month. Potzauf explained, “(Youth Art Month) is an annual exhibit that we host to celebrate our emerging artists. So, all of Fannin County Schools participate, as well as home school children.”

Potzauf also noted that this year Copper Basin schools are participating in the program.

The BRMAA hosts several fundraising events throughout the year, and Potzauf shared that through fundraising efforts “we were able to give $4,000 in youth scholarships to children in our area to obtain art classes and art education.”

“We’ve partnered with UNG (University of North Georgia) to do a lunch and learn series,” Potzauf spoke of what is new for BRMAA this year.

This partnering is with the UNG Appalachian Studies Program and English Department. The first Lunch and Learn will take place April 18 and will be hosted by Blue Ridge Scholars of UNG.

The first in this series will be “an artistic presentation of the poverty and resilience of the Blue Ridge mountains and our area,” according to Potzauf.

A new appointment to the Board of Assessors took place, with Helton recommending Angelina Powell to this board in place of current board member Lane Bishop.

This recommendation was met with no discussion by the post commissioners, and the board unanimously voted for Powell to receive this appointment. Powell will serve a four-year term beginning March 1, 2018.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Parks and Recreation, Eddie O'Neal , Board of Commissioners, Chairman Stan Helton, Post 1 Commissioner, Earl Johnson, Post 2 Commissioner, Larry Joe Sosebee, Horseshoe Bend Park, Appalachian Regional Commission, Recreational Trail Grant, Northwest Regional Commission, Tamen Park, mowing contract, Nichole Potzauf, Executive Director of Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association, BRMAA, Youth Art Month, University of North Georgia, Appalachian Studies Program, Blue Ridge Scholars, Board of Assessors, Angelina Powell, Lane Bishop, Fannin County Emergency Management Agency, EMA, Robert Graham, Fannin County Finance Director, Robin Gazaway

Points of interest from Fannin County’s January budget review.

Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham was present to discuss the progress of the new fire station and E-911 center that is currently in the construction stage.

Graham stated that the structural portion of the project was running on time and on budget and was about a third of the way complete. Graham expects completion of this project in May or June of this year.

Fannin County Finance Director Robin Gazaway reported a summary of the county’s expenses and revenues for the month of January. Being just 8 percent into the county budget, the tax assessor’s office is showing a budget deficit.

Gazaway explained that this was expected and should even out over the next couple of months: “We had budgeted for maps and that was all paid upfront. There will be some revenues from the cities that will go against that.”

So far in 2018, the county is $775,000 under budget.

Discussion of funding for the new Fire Station 1/E-911 center was discussed during this portion of the meeting.

“We knew we would have to borrow some funds,” Helton said of the financing. “We felt that we could finance out of pocket about 75 percent.”

The other 25 percent of funding, ranging from $600,000 to $1.2 million, is currently being studied by Gazaway. While nothing has been finalized, Gazaway said that she had been speaking with bond companies for funding.

Johnson, alerted by the mention of financing through bonds, asked to speak with Gazaway immediately regarding the situation.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Parks and Recreation, Eddie O'Neal , Board of Commissioners, Chairman Stan Helton, Post 1 Commissioner, Earl Johnson, Post 2 Commissioner, Larry Joe Sosebee, Horseshoe Bend Park, Appalachian Regional Commission, Recreational Trail Grant, Northwest Regional Commission, Tamen Park, mowing contract, Nichole Potzauf, Executive Director of Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association, BRMAA, Youth Art Month, University of North Georgia, Appalachian Studies Program, Blue Ridge Scholars, Board of Assessors, Angelina Powell, Lane Bishop, Fannin County Emergency Management Agency, EMA, Robert Graham, Fannin County Finance Director, Robin Gazaway

Epworth resident Noah Sims expresses concerns over courthouse security.

“I’m not in favor of getting a bond,” Johnson expressed, stern in his stance.

Johnson explained it is situations like this where he wants to see better communication taking place with the post commissioners.

Public commentary brought about questions of safety at the Fannin County Courthouse.

Epworth resident Noah Sims addressed the board on what he felt were breaches in security.

Making it clear the he was not attacking our local law enforcement, Sims addressed the security measures in place at the courthouse entrance: “I am up here as a concerned citizen. You all do not have any security in the building. Zero. It’s breached.”

Sims noted that employees often are waved through without being scanned: “When you let one person not get checked you have zero security.”

Sims would like to see policy and procedure followed for all persons entering the building without exception.

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Bishop out on Board of Assessors, Powell to replace

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – In a called meeting of the Fannin County Board of Assessors (BOA) Tuesday, Feb. 27, to forward an appeal to Superior Court, Chairman Lane Bishop shared with the board that he would not be reappointed at the Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting, which followed later that evening. At the commissioners meeting, local business owner Angelina Powell was appointed unanimously by the commissioners to replace Bishop on the BOA following a motion from Fannin County BOC Chairman Stan Helton and a second from Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee.

According to Bishop, his term expires Feb. 28. Bishop, who served on the assessors board for over three years, took time to issue a statement to BOA members Janie Bearden and Mark Henson as well as county Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran and BOA secretary Heather Wright. BOA members Troy Junnier and Anthony Holloway were not present for the called meeting.

“I talked to Stan Helton yesterday (Feb. 26) and he is not going to reappoint me to this board. I asked him why and he said he didn’t have to explain anything to me. And I said, ‘Stan, at least give me one more year because there’s two items that I want to finish. ‘One of them is our 10,000 (parcels in the county yet to be reappraised).’ I said I want to see that that’s done. That’s been my baby all this time. He said, ‘No.’ His mind was made up … I told him he had no reason not to reappoint me. Well, he does have a reason though. He’s got several reasons that is nothing but pure backstabbing politics in Fannin County. That’s why I’m not being reappointed, and I want the tax payers to know it. And they’re going to know it … I wanted to announce it to this board. I wanted to thank you (Bearden and Henson) for being on the board … and I hope you all will continue trying to run this board honestly, honestly for the tax payers of Fannin County. It was not run that way when we first took it over and Janie (Bearden) knows it and I know it and a lot of us know this. It is now being run honest and I think we’ve got some honest people on it. There’s some politics in it, yes. I’m very much aware of the politics. There are dirty, backstabbing politics and that’s why I’m being removed … I wish I could be a little softer in my remarks, but I don’t think so because Stan (Helton) said he hoped there were no hard feelings. I told him there were some bad hard feelings and because I know why I’m being removed and it’s wrong … plain wrong. He and Larry Joe Sosebee, I hope, will answer for what they’re doing to me.”

In the public eye at least, relations have seemed somewhat strained between the Board of Assessors and Board of Commissioners for the past six months. At an all-day workshop Sept. 20, 2017, at which the commissioners met with representatives from all county departments to discuss their respective 2018 budgets, Bishop and Bearden questioned the recent appointments of Henson and Junnier and were met with a firm rebuttal from Chairman Helton. Those appointments expanded the BOA from three members to five.

In early December, just as the commissioners were finalizing all revisions to the county’s proposed 2018 budget, the BOA publicly questioned the commissioners’ recommended, and ultimately approved, 2018 budget of $848,265 for the Board of Assessors. The assessors requested budget was $977,370.

Following the budget talks, the BOA experienced mechanical troubles with two vehicles in its six-vehicle fleet in January rendering them both inoperable, and Junnier spoke on behalf of the BOA at the Jan. 29 Board of Commissioners meeting to lobby for the purchase of two replacement vehicles. During that session, Chairman Helton questioned some end-of-the-year purchases made by the tax assessors department, and Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson told Junnier that if the commissioners approved the purchases, he did not want to hear about the problems of the tax assessors’ vehicle fleet again while he was in office. Ultimately, the commissioners did approve the purchase of two 2016 Ford Escapes in the amount of $20,000 each at their Feb. 13 meeting.

In a post-meeting interview with Bishop Tuesday, the tax assessors chairman pointed to Commissioner Sosebee as the origin of contention against him from the Board of Commissioners. Bishop said in addition to the reappraisal of the 10,000 parcels, he had hoped to stay on the BOA long enough to be sure a relapse did not occur within the tax assessors department: “The main thing is that the Board (of Assessors) does not go back to the ‘good ole boy’ syndrome and start favoring some of the more wealthy people in this county.”

Bishop referred back to the period before he joined the BOA when it was alleged that several Fannin County residents received favors from within the tax assessors department by not having their tax bills recorded and added to the tax digest.

“This (department) was corrupted. It was the ‘good ole boys’ syndrome going right here in this tax office,” Bishop stated. “When we took over this office within the first two weeks or so, we added $10 million to the digest. Now where do you think that $10 million came from? It came from returns that had never been put on the digest.”

Bishop along with former BOA members Nathan Henson and Sonia Smith replaced the former BOA in May 2014 after that tax assessors board was removed entirely by the Board of Commissioners upon the recommendation of Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver due to departmental deficiencies. According to Bishop, one of the new BOA’s first moves then was to terminate two tax assessor employees in an effort to correct the deficiencies within the department.

“Well, one of those people happened to be a friend of Larry Joe Sosebee,” Bishop said, “and he’s held that against me ever since I’ve been on this board.”

As far as his relationship with Helton, Bishop said, “Stan Helton ain’t got one thing against me except what he’s been told.”

Concerning the reasoning for not reappointing Bishop, Helton, in a follow-up interview Tuesday, stated, “Well, I think I did give (Bishop) reason. Our board – me and the other two commissioners – are unanimous in that we feel that that office (tax assessors department) has gotten too big, and the budget that is there now is far in excess of our surrounding counties and it needs to go in the other direction.”

Helton pointed out the consent order from the state Department of Revenue was lifted in August of last year. “There’s no reason for that department to keep getting bigger or even be the size it is now. It’s too big,” Helton added.

The commission chairman further explained he feels the duties of the tax assessors office can still be accomplished with a smaller staff but that any future potential reductions would occur “slowly, over time.”

“We’re not talking about slashing the thing in half immediately,” Helton stated.

Helton also mentioned he felt a degree of resistance from the BOA regarding a downsizing movement and said, “I’m going to appoint someone who agrees with me.”

When asked about the BOA’s continued concern that a reduction in staff and/or budget could result in a relapse to the period leading up to state’s previous consent order on the BOA, Helton replied, “I do not accept that. Not at all. Because if people are going to do their job, that will not happen. And we will make sure, the Board of Commissioners will make sure that that does not happen … I don’t accept that attitude. I do not. And there are some real drastic things we could do.”

That “drastic” option Helton proposed, though he clarified he did not favor, would be to contract an independent company to do field appraisals and property evaluations. “We do have that option, (but) I don’t want to do that,” Helton added, saying he has always favored hiring locally.

“What I don’t accept is why our (tax assessors’) budget is 25 percent higher than what Gilmer (County’s) was, almost twice Pickens (County), and three times Union County. And we’re not talking about apples to oranges. We’re talking about counties that have similar numbers as far as properties that have to be appraised, demographics. I mean it’s too close,” Helton continued. “It’s not going to stay the biggest, most expensive budget in the four counties that surround us. It’s not going to stay that way.”

In a Wednesday morning interview, Commissioner Sosebee responded to Bishop’s claim that the lack of reappointment by the Board of Commissioners was a retaliatory tactic stemming from Sosebee. While Sosebee admitted he did have friends who worked within the tax assessors department years ago and who were terminated shortly after Bishop took office, the commissioner added, “That’s all water under the bridge.”

“I have never had any animosity toward Bishop or the BOA,” Sosebee explained. “If I did have any animosity, I would have gotten rid of Bearden.”

Instead, Bearden was reappointed to the BOA by the Board of Commissioners, as Sosebee’s personal appointment, at the Feb. 13 BOC meeting.

“This is not a personal vendetta,” Sosebee stated. “If (Bishop) feels that way, I’m sorry.”

Sosebee also stated the appointment of Powell at the BOC meeting Tuesday evening instead of the reappointment of Bishop came as a shock to him and denied influencing Helton in any way ahead of the decision.

“I never influenced Helton (on the move),” Sosebee said. “Mr. Helton is not one who is easily influenced by anyone. I had nothing to do with it.”

 

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Board of Commissioners keep Fannin County finances as top priority

Community, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) are moving forward in 2018 with the county budget still being a top priority. The BOC began their first meeting of the year by passing a resolution acknowledging that they upheld and will continue to uphold progress made in the passing of the 2018 Budget at their Dec. 12 meeting.

This resolution stated that the commissioners complied with Georgia state laws when adopting this year’s budget and acknowledged that commissioners kept promises made throughout the year in regard to the budget, including an all day public workshop on the topic.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman Stan Helton, Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson, Post Two Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee, 2018 Budget, 2017 Audit, Rushton and Company, Hotel / Motel Tax, Finance Director Robin Gazaway, Ed Hawkins, Ken Petty, Public Works, Fannin County Water Authority, Building Maintance, General Election 2018, Board of Education, Qualifying Fees

BOC holds first meeting of 2018.

Commissioners also voted unanimously to hire Rushton and Company to conduct the audit on the county’s 2017 fiscal year. Rushton and Company, accounting and business advisors, were responsible for the 2016 audit.

“I think they did a pretty thorough job,” Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson discussed of the hire, “and I don’t see any reason not to use them again.”

Rushton and Company proposed a contract with the county to continue services for this year at the same rate as the previous year and to not exceed a total of $54,900. A report on the county’s finances will be made available by June 30, 2018.

Johnson, a long-time proponent of a more transparent approach to the use of the Hotel/Motel Tax, discussed with the board setting up a public workshop to address this issue.

In 2018, the county will receive an extra 10 percent proportion of this tax. Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee recommended allowing some of these funds to accumulate before addressing their use.

Commission Chairman Stan Helton stated that the extra 10 percent, based on the previous year’s revenue, would come to approximately $150,000.

Fannin County Finance Director Robin Gazaway stated that a separate account could be set up specifically for the 10 percent increase. The board agreed to separate this revenue and schedule a workshop to discuss where these funds will be allocated.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman Stan Helton, Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson, Post Two Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee, 2018 Budget, 2017 Audit, Rushton and Company, Hotel / Motel Tax, Finance Director Robin Gazaway, Ed Hawkins, Ken Petty, Public Works, Fannin County Water Authority, Building Maintance, General Election 2018, Board of Education, Qualifying Fees

Fannin County Library Branch Manager Andrew Vickers accepts paperwork confirming appointment of Steven Miracle to the Board of Trustees.

Steven Miracle is the latest appointment to the Board of Trustees in Fannin County. Andrew Vickers, Fannin County Library Branch Manager, was present at the meeting as the board discussed the newest appointee.

Helton addressed Vickers, “Andrew, I understand this fills your board up with what the county appoints are allowed?”

To which Vickers acknowledged that this would fill the final position on the Board of Trustees.

“Mr. Miracle does a lot of good things for this county, and I certainly have no questions,” Helton stated before asking post commissioners their thoughts. All commissioners agreed that this would be a good addition for the board and voted unanimously in favor of Miracle.

Former Building Maintenance Supervisor Ken Petty recently transferred to the Public Works department, leaving his position with Building Maintenance open.

“I would like to recommend that we appoint Mr. Ed Hawkins as the new department head over at maintenance,” Helton suggested to the board.

Sosebee replied to this recommendation, “Good choice.”

Johnson clarified that the appointment of Hawkins to this position would not change the number of employees in the maintenance department. Hawkins, formerly with the Fannin County Water Authority, was approved for this position.

The board also approved the qualification fees for the 2018 general election. The Post 2 Commissioner seat along with two seats on the Board of Education will be on the ballot this year.

The qualifying fees for these positions are $349 for Post 2 Commissioner and $144 each for a seat with the Board of Education. Qualifying begins March 5 at 9 a.m. and will close on March 9 at noon.

The general election will take place on Nov. 11, 2018.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Natalie Kissel

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City officials meet with county, school representatives over construction projects

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Blue Ridge Mayor Donna Whitener and Utility Supervisor Becky Harkins sat down with officials from the county and the Fannin County Board of Education (FCBOE) as well as County and FCBOE Attorney Lynn Doss and engineers and contractors Tuesday, Dec. 19.

The meeting, as Harkins explained, was a pre-construction meeting that should have taken place before construction began on both the Fannin County Agriculture and Environmental Science Facility and the county’s public safety complex. The city requires a number of pre-construction items to be completed before a construction project is allowed to tap into city water lines. Harkins stated after former Director of Land Development Roy Parsons retired unexpectedly earlier in the year, the pre-construction meeting “fell off the grid (and) didn’t take place” before both entities began construction on their respective projects.

“Our agenda today is to get everybody the information they need in order move forward in a timely manner so that you can complete your projects on time and the lines are up to city development standards so that when you’re done, we can complete the process of taking those lines over, which was the desired attempt from the beginning,” Harkins said.

Harkins distributed a project checklist for everyone present, who included Fannin County Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton, Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham, Fannin County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney and Fannin County Schools Facility and Maintenance Director Danny Shinpaugh.

The most pressing issue on the checklist is receiving approval from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) for the water main extension from Ada Street to Windy Ridge Road. According to Harkins, whenever the city or an independent developer extends a water line for which the city will eventually assume responsibility, the plans must be approved by the EPD as required by the state.

Part of the purpose of the meeting was to determine which entity – the school system or the county – would be responsible for submitting plans to EPD for approval.

Southern Architects and Engineers (A&E) is the engineering firm charged with the construction of the agriculture facility, and Michael Waldbillig, vice president of mechanical engineering for Southern A&E, explained the main extension from Ada will directly service the agriculture facility with the public safety complex line later tapping into the Ag building line at the first manhole after the extension from the existing city line.

Waldbillig inevitably agreed to send the plans for the extension to EPD since the immediate extension from the existing city line will be tied directly to the agriculture facility. Harkins also requested for the plans to be forwarded to the city for final review before Waldbillig sent the plans to EPD, which Waldbillig agreed to do.

Also, during the meeting, a meter vault located at the forthcoming public safety complex was discussed. It was revealed that an additional meter would need to be installed in the vault and the vault would have to be modified. According to EMA Director Graham, the vault, as originally designed, was not large enough to hold a fire line meter.

Graham confirmed that the modification of the vault would increase the overall cost of the public safety complex, but that the county would likely speak with representatives from R Design Works, the engineering firm that designed the public safety complex, and request that the firm cover the costs for the modification.

As far as any delays to the completion of the complex, Graham stated construction was still on schedule despite the need to modify the meter vault, and the projected completion date remains at the end of May 2018.

Regarding the continued construction of the school system’s agriculture facility, Gwatney and Shinpaugh both agreed that they did not anticipate any delays or additional costs to result from the city’s requirements concerning the water main extension and construction would continue as planned. Although the anticipated date of completion for the project is planned for sometime near the end of the school year, Shinpaugh did add that inclement weather in the coming months could be a factor in the construction process of the facility.

 

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Commissioners conduct business before passing the 2018 budget

Community, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Fannin County Sheriff’s Office could receive a new vehicle after Chief Deputy Major Keith Bosen was involved in an accident on state Route 5.

Fannin County Sheriff Dane Kirby addressed the Board of Commissioners (BOC) on Dec. 12 with an unforeseen item that was not on the meeting agenda. Kirby explained to the board about the county vehicle that had been involved in the accident, “We got it out at Car Crafters, and they’re thinking it’s going to cost about what the vehicle is worth to fix it, so it’s likely going to be totaled.”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County Board of Commissioners, Chairman Stan Helton, Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson, Post Two Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee, Financial Director Robin Gazaway, Board of Assessors, Tax Assessors, 2018 Budget, Fannin County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Dane Kirby, Fannin Coutny Emergency Management Agency, EMA, Patrick Cooke

Sheriff Dane Kirby was present to discuss the renewal of contracts for the Fannin County Jail.

Kirby added, “We don’t have that set in stone.”

The vehicle suffered damage to the back end and also sustained damage to the frame. Kirby and Bosen had searched for a used vehicle after finding out about the extent of the damage, but we’re unable to locate one.

A new vehicle, which was found at Jacky Jones Ford in Cleveland, Georgia, has a price tag of $26,700. Kirby explained that he still had funds in his current budget to purchase this vehicle but had not allocated funds in 2018 for such a purchase.

Kirby stated that an insurance settlement from the wrecked vehicle would be used to partially reimburse the expenditure of securing the new vehicle.

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee questioned, “What if they don’t total the car out?”

“We have a lot of options there,” Kirby replied. “If another office needed that vehicle, we could turn it over to you all to issue out however you all saw fit.”

Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton looked for additional clarification: “So even if it’s fixed, it’s not something you want out there?”

Kirby and Bosen had discussed this possibility previously, and Bosen had expressed reluctance in continued use of the vehicle. “I’m not so sure I would want it for an emergency vehicle after all that damage has been done to it,” Kirby explained.

After some discussion, the BOC voted unanimously to allow the purchase of the new vehicle for Fannin County Sheriff’s Department.

The purchase of the new vehicle was a main focus, but Sheriff Dane Kirby was also present to have the BOC renew two contracts. These annual contracts concern food and health services provided to Fannin County Jail.

The cost of the food service contract showed a 1 percent increase, and the contract concerning healthcare increased by 3 percent.

“I don’t think our food service or our health provider has asked us for a percent increase since I have been in office,” Kirby said of the price difference for the 2018 contracts. “We have not had anything but flawless performance out of both of those providers.”

The BOC collectively agreed that the increase in cost of these two contracts was not unreasonable and unanimously voted to re-enter into both of the agreements.

Deputy Director of Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Patrick Cooke was also on the agenda to discuss the purchase of a radio tower for the new 911 facility.

The county’s new 911 facility will be located at 930 Windy Ridge Road, and construction is already underway.

Cooke presented three bids to the board for the purchase of the new 911 radio tower. The lowest bid was $22,000, and the highest bid came in at $40,030. Cooke stated, “There’s no reason why we cannot go with the lowest bid on this one.”

Sosebee questioned, “Do you have it in your budget?”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County Board of Commissioners, Chairman Stan Helton, Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson, Post Two Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee, Financial Director Robin Gazaway, Board of Assessors, Tax Assessors, 2018 Budget, Fannin County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Dane Kirby, Fannin Coutny Emergency Management Agency, EMA, Patrick Cooke

Gazaway presented the monthly budget update, and showed were departments stood as of Nov. 30.

Cooke explained that the purchase amount would be covered in the 2017 budget. A tower located on Bullen Gap Road had been damaged, and the majority of the cost of the new tower will come from an insurance reimbursement that the department had received.

The insurance settlement for $18,898.23 would offset the cost of the new tower to where only $3,101.77 would need to be pulled from the budget. The new tower would be able to communicate with the main repeater located on Brawley Mountain and would also act as a back up in the event that the main repeater went down.

The BOC voted unanimously for the purchase of the new radio tower, and construction of the new 911 facility is expected to move forward on schedule.

Fannin County Finance Director Robin Gazaway presented a monthly update of the county’s current budget prior to the BOC discussing and passing the county’s 2018 budget.

Through Nov. 30, the county is showing that it is under budget by approximately $500,000. Gazaway explained that as of the Nov. 30 date, the county was currently 92 percent into the budget for 2017.

Sosebee questioned specifically about the Tax Assessors budget, and Gazaway replied that they were $242,270 under budget for the year.

Gazaway did clarify, “I know they have a few more expenditures in December, but as of Nov. 30, they’re under budget.”

With information presented by Gazaway concerning the county’s spending and revenue, the BOC passed the 2018 Budget at the end of the meeting.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

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