Blue Ridge Alcohol Committee continues ordinance discussion

Business, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The topics of possibility extending weekend drinking hours for restaurants and the future of employee permits headlined the discussion at the third Blue Ridge Alcohol Committee meeting Tuesday, May 29.

The meeting consisted of an informal round-table discussion that included the committee, which consists of city council members Robbie Cornelius and Harold Herndon, city residents David Gray (absent from the meeting) and Larry Versyn, and local business owners Stuart Arp and Ken Brenneman, as well as Mayor Donna Whitener, Police Chief Johnny Scearce, city supervisor of tax and licensing Sally Smith, and local business owners Brendan Doyle and Scott Peters.

The idea of extending hours during which establishments are allowed to serve alcohol was originally proposed by Arp, owner of Chester Brunnemeyer’s Bar and Grill, at the first Alcohol Committee meeting April 11. Arp suggested extending the cut off time for alcohol service from 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

Arp stressed to the committee and attendees that he felt businesses are losing tourist dollars from visitors who are unaware of the 11:30 p.m. cut off time and do not begin to arrive in the downtown area until 9:30 or 10 p.m.

“It would be a good thing to give us the option, whether (business owners) implement it or not,” said Doyle, owner of The Boro Inn, of the possibility of extending the cut off time on weekends.

In addition, Arp stated he would like to amend the beginning of alcohol service from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Brenneman, owner of Blue Jeans Pizza and Pasta, objected to the idea of modifying the morning start time for alcohol sales. “We have places of business that serve breakfast, and if they want to serve a mimosa, they ought to be able to serve a mimosa. Just like you ought to be able, or you guys are pushing, to serve liquor at 1 a.m. in the morning,” Brenneman stated to Arp.

To this, Arp clarified his proposal was for a 12:30 a.m. cut off with all patrons to be vacated from establishments by 1 a.m.

“There are events that drive people in here that are looking to go out late,” Arp stated. “Even some of the employees, there’s no place for them to go (after work) because (businesses are) already closed. I don’t think 12:30 a.m. is egregious by any means … and I’m only saying for two nights a week.”

Concerning the potential 12:30 a.m. cut off, Versyn stated he believed it was “not unreasonable.”

Mayor Whitener also mentioned she felt a later cut off could possibly attract local residents who work until 6 or 7 p.m. or even later to come out who normally would not.

Regarding employee serving permits, the committee revisited the proposed ordinance amendment from January, which would require employees to reapply for a new permit every year at a cost of $30 instead of once every three years.

When Cornelius asked the business owners present where they stood on the proposal, Arp, Doyle and Peters all felt the change would be too much of a hardship for employees. Brenneman, however, favored the change to one year.

Offering an explanation for the proposed change, Smith told the committee of a local bartender who had recently received two DUIs (driving under the influence) in the time following the issuance of his serving permit. “We never knew about it (and) he’s not supposed to have that,” Smith said, referring to the serving permit.

“I can understand both sides; I’d split the difference (and) go two years,” Chief Scearce said. “You’re right on some points and you’re right on your points, but what I’m saying is this … say someone got out there and got popped in Atlanta at a concert with a bag of dope in their pocket … We’d never know about it till we run (a check).”

The committee also discussed the legality of “sip and shop” events at downtown businesses.

At the May 2 meeting, Versyn stated he had heard of retail establishments serving alcohol to patrons after hours while they shopped, and he expressed a concern over this.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Chief Scearce explained business owners cannot serve or sell alcohol to customers either privately or after hours, but business owners themselves are allowed to consume alcohol in their place of business after hours.

“You’re saying it’s still okay to lock the doors and then drink all night long in their establishment as long as they’re not selling it?” Versyn asked Scearce.

Again, Scearce stressed to Versyn business owners are not allowed to serve customers, but “if these (owners) want to sit in their business after it’s closed and sit there all night long and get drunk off their hind end, I could care less. But when they come out on that road, they’re mine.”

Also, in the January ordinance amendments, which passed a first public hearing by the city council but was never adopted, a provision was proposed for the mayor and/or council members who hold a 10 percent or higher ownership in an establishment to recuse him or herself from voting on any matter that would involve said establishment.

The Alcohol Committee appeared in agreement that this amendment should be approved as originally presented.

Moving forward, City Attorney James Balli is expected to draft a new proposal for amendments to the alcohol ordinance based on the recommendations and discussions of the Alcohol Committee over the past two months and present them to the city council at a future 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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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.

City boards restructuring draws criticism

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – An ordinance to restructure the city’s Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals was approved by the Blue Ridge City Council during its May 8 meeting Tuesday.

Last month, a first reading of the ordinance was presented during the council meeting. As explained then by City Attorney James Balli, the ordinance would condense both the Zoning Board of Appeals and the city Planning Commission from seven members to five members each. Balli further explained each city council member would appoint one member to serve on each board and appointees would be allowed to serve on both boards, if the council member so desired. According to Balli, the ordinance would amend an already established city ordinance to be compliant with the City Charter and state law.

After a second reading this month, the ordinance was approved unanimously. According to Balli, the council’s appointments are Gene Holcombe to serve as Councilwoman Robbie Cornelius’ appointment to both the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals, Cindy Trimble to serve as Councilwoman Rhonda Haight’s appointment on both boards, Mark Engledow and Angelina Powell to serve as Councilman Harold Herndon’s appointments to the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals, respectively, Rick Skelton to serve as Councilman Nathan Fitts’ appointment to both boards, and Thomas Kay and Michael Eaton to serve as Councilman Ken Gaddis’ appointments to the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals, respectively.

At the end of the meeting, Eaton, existing chairman of city Zoning Board of Appeals, spoke to the council concerning the changes to the two boards.

“What I have a problem with is we’ve basically eliminated three positions on the Zoning Board of Appeals tonight for three different people who have put in a lot of time and effort for their part and were not contacted or told any of this was going to happen,” Eaton stated.

“John Soave, Ralph Garner, Brendan Doyle – when are their terms up?” Eaton asked.

To this, Mayor Donna Whitener responded, “Their terms are up as of today.”

“I feel like we’ve all been left in the dark. This has been done very disrespectfully,” Eaton added, saying he was only contacted by Gaddis who notified Eaton he would be the councilman’s appointment. “I think it’s been done very poorly.”

A second reading for an Illumination Ordinance amendment was also presented and approved at this month’s meeting. The ordinance, according to its wording, makes it “unlawful for any person, organization of persons, or entity to willfully tamper with, illegally project light upon, mutilate or deface any City personal or real property, including, without limitation, trees, other plants, buildings, drive-in theaters screens, vehicles or other equipment for lighting, firefighting, police protection or water and sewer installation and maintenance.” First-time violators of the ordinance now face a civil fine of at least $500 and subsequent violations are punishable by a civil fine of at least $500 and up to 90 days in jail.

An amendment to change the rules of procedure at council meetings to allow for more public commentary on action items was approved unanimously by the council. As explained by Balli, the amendment will now allow five sections of public commentary at two minutes per person on a first come, first serve basis for any item requiring a vote from the council. Following the end of the public commentary, the council would then vote on the item. The amendment also allows for individuals to speak on any late additions to the agenda without having to request ahead of time to be on the agenda to speak themselves.

Jeff Stewart, city zoning supervisor, presented bids and estimates for repairs to the roof at City Hall. The council unanimously approved and awarded two bids: one from GoCo for $6,650 for the demolition and removal of the bank drive-through and another from Trademark Coatings for $35,427.50 for the repair of the main roof of the building. According to Trademark’s estimate and scope of work, the cost will include pressure washing and reuse of the existing shingles, which were deemed to still be in good condition, and application of a urethane foam base coat, which is designed to create a seamless roofing system.

The city received $20,165.00 in insurance claims for damage sustained to city hall during a storm in the spring of 2017.

The council unanimously approved an allotment of up to $10,000 for remodel of the city police department building on Church Street. In February, the council approved a previous amount up to $10,000 for needed repairs and renovation of the police department. Mayor Whitener explained after initial work to the building began, further problems and issues were also revealed, but she anticipated that the further work should cost under the additional $10,000.

Police Chief Johnny Scearce stated further repairs and upgrades to the building, built in 1936, will include repairs to a corner of the roof, replacement of gutters and fascia boards, and upgrades to the lights and electrical wiring system. “One thing led into another,” Chief Scearce said of the building renovation.

Replacement of the slide deck at the city pool was discussed after the city received a quote from Miracle Recreation Equipment Company in the amount of $6,009.86 to replace the slide. Councilwoman Rhonda Haight questioned the decision to replace the slide considering the uncertain future of the city pool and potential liability issues with the slide.

“Considering we don’t really know the future of the pool, do we just take it down for right now or spend $6,000?” Haight said. “I would suggest just take the slide out, (because) first of all, (it is) a liability, and second, because we don’t know (the pool’s) future.”

Whitener stated parts to repair the pool thus far for the upcoming season have amounted to under $5,000, which was considerably less than originally anticipated. The mayor seemly advocated for the replacement of the slide stating the slide is heavily used by children at the pool and removal of the slide would require additional concrete work.

“Well, I would have to agree with Rhonda,” Councilman Nathan Fitts said. “To keep spending money with the unknown future of the pool, to me, doesn’t make financial sense.”

After further discussion, the council approved for the slide to be taken down.

In public commentary, Gene Holcombe spoke on behalf of the Blue Ridge Business Association and inquired of the city’s progress with adding downtown public restrooms and parking space. Mayor Whitener told Holcombe Councilman Herndon had recently suggested the idea of building a small restroom unit near the large public parking lot off of Mountain Street as early as this summer using detainee labor and engineering assistance from Councilman Gaddis’ All Choice Plumbing company. As for the parking situation, Whitener told Holcombe the parking study, which was approved in the council’s April meeting, was still in the process of being completed.

After an executive session, Councilwoman Haight made a motion to “resolve a claim involving 0.03 acres with Campbell Camp Investments LLC and to give the mayor authority to sign a quick claim for that property.” After a second from Gaddis, the motion passed unanimously.

The council approved three invoices from the city’s water system engineering firm, Carter & Sloope:

  • In the amount of $13,092.50 for various engineering services, Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) permitting for water line work on state Route 515 near BB&T bank and on state Route 60 in Mineral Bluff and plan reviews of the Fannin County Agriculture and Public Safety Complex buildings;
  • In the amount of $11,639.10 for continued monitoring of metals and temperature at the city’s wastewater treatment facility; and
  • In the amount of $11,363.75 for providing preliminary cost estimates to GDOT for proposed utility relocation along state Route 5 as part of the forthcoming highway expansion.

 

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.

Finances discussed, ‘interim’ tag removed from Chief Scearce at city council meeting

News

[Featured image: The Blue Ridge City Council welcomed Richie Walker, territory sales manager for Advanced Disposal, to its April meeting. Advanced Disposal will be donating two dumpsters to be used during Georgia Cities Week April 21 through 27 during which the city will be sponsoring a city-wide clean-up where residents are encouraged to dispose of yard trash at one of two dumpsters located at City Hall and the Farmer’s Market. Seen here are, from left to right, front: Councilwoman Robbie Cornelius, Councilwoman Rhonda Haight, Walker, Mayor Donna Whitener; back: Councilman Nathan Fitts and Councilman Ken Gaddis.]

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Blue Ridge City Council addressed potential projects and city finances as well as removed the “interim” tag from Police Chief Johnny Scearce at their Tuesday, April 10, meeting.

Alicia Stewart, city finance director, presented an extensive break-down of the city’s finances along with current projects being undertaken by the city during a capital planning session. The purpose of the session, as explained by Mayor Donna Whitener, was to develop 12 to 18-month plan for the city.

Stewart began by addressing the city water fund and announced the amounts of revenue versus the cost of current projects, such as the current Community Development Block Grant project match ($79,244.46), phase II of the East Main Street project ($372,243.41), and a payoff for a 2015 Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) loan ($108,000) among others. All told, the city has approximately $884,780.81 in cash available remaining in the water fund balance, according to Stewart.

However, also in her presentation, Stewart presented the council with a list of prioritized water infrastructure needs anticipated for the city over the next five years. Among those needed projects are an over $2 million line relocation project for water lines required by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) for the forthcoming state Route 5 highway expansion, a $500,000 upgrade project to the Aska Road sewer substation and a projected $640,000 for phases III and IV of a meter replacement project.

“Bottom line is we have $884,000 in spendable money, and we’ve got about $4 million in projects,” Whitener said. “So the next time somebody says, ‘Oh, we’ve got all these projects,’ we don’t have money … and these are projects that really can’t stay on the back burner too much longer.”

As far as this year’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) revenue, Whitener suggested two road projects: a turning lane for Blue Ridge Elementary School and a repaving project on West First Street. The mayor stated after those projects and factoring a negative balance of $46,707 from last year’s SPLOST, about $50,000 will remain in SPLOST funds this year.

Stewart also explained there is an amount of $320,523.09 in cash available from the general fund and close to $584,000 in reserves, which is $400,000 from the sale of the marina property and a $183,000 cd (certificate of deposit).

“Those two together put us just right at the $600,000-ish that would be needed to meet our policy of holding 25 percent of our budget as reserve,” Stewart explained. “So, if we dip into that, we’re not reserving according to our policy.”

Whitener then announced a list of potential projects and the ensuing costs she told the council to consider, including approximately $100,000 for repairs to the city hall roof, $75,000 to $100,000 for stormwater run-off projects, up to $300,000 for a grant match for downtown bathrooms, $350,000 to $400,000 for major upgrades and renovations of the city pool, and undetermined amounts for potential renovations of the farmer’s market, renovations of the deck at the depot and several street projects.

“I need you all to be thinking about this before the next meeting because you are going to have to make some decisions,” Whitener told the council.

Later in the meeting, Councilwoman Rhonda Haight proposed the idea of hiring an independent contractor to conduct a comprehensive parking study for the city. Haight explained that she and Councilman Nathan Fitts had recently participated in several meetings in an effort to obtain grants for enhancing downtown parking and installing downtown public restrooms.

“Everybody we’ve met with so far they’ve asked do we have a comprehensive parking study in place,” Haight said, “and pretty much, for us to get any money, if we even can with grants or even a loan, we’re going to have to have a comprehensive parking study.”

Haight also stated the city, last year, had received an estimate for a parking study that would cost $28,000 to $30,000.

Concerning the requirement of the study to apply for grants, Fitts added, “We’ve been sitting down at a lot of these meetings and the requirements to even apply for grants and get grants is more comprehensive than I ever even realized, so we’re going to have to have this regardless.”

After this, Haight made a motion to proceed with steps to conduct the study, which was followed by a second from Fitts with the provision for the city to receive estimates for the study. Initially, the vote was stalled when Fitts and Haight voted in favor of the study, but council members Robbie Cornelius, Ken Gaddis and Harold Herndon all delayed in voting. Cornelius and Gaddis both questioned the financing of the study.

“One of reasons I asked Alicia (Stewart) to look at doing as much as she did on the (capital planning information) you got today is so you understood where the money is and where it will have to come from, so therefore, if you approve up to $30,000 for this study, remember that you’re pushing something else (another project) down the road,” Whitener told the council.

Another vote was taken with Fitts and Haight again voting in favor, Cornelius and Gaddis voting against and Herndon abstaining. After consulting with City Attorney James Balli as to the nature of the vote, Mayor Whitener voted in favor of the parking study to break the tie, allowing for the city to proceed with the study as proposed.

In other items, the council also unanimously voted to appoint Johnny Scearce as the Blue Ridge City Police chief without the attached tag of “interim”. At the first city council meeting of the the new year and new administration Jan.9, the council voted unanimously to add the title of “interim” to Scearce’s role as police chief until such time as another permanent police chief could be installed to replace Scearce. At this month’s meeting, the decision to remove the “interim” tag was made without discussion or explanation as to the council’s reasoning behind the move.

First readings for two city ordinances were given at the meeting. The first ordinance, as explained by City Attorney James Balli, would condense both the Zoning Board of Appeals and the city Planning Commission from seven members to five members each. Balli further explained each city council member would appoint one member to serve on each board and appointees would be allowed to serve on both boards. According to Balli, the ordinance, if passed, would amend an already established city ordinance to be compliant with the City Charter and state law.

The other ordinance, termed an Illumination Ordinance, would, according to the wording, make it “unlawful for any person, organization of persons, or entity to willfully tamper with, illegally project light upon, mutilate or deface any City personal or real property, including, without limitation, trees, other plants, buildings, drive-in theaters screens, vehicles or other equipment for lighting, firefighting, police protection or water and sewer installation and
maintenance.” First-time violators of the ordinance would face a civil fine of at least $500 and subsequent violations would be punishable by a civil fine of at least $500 and up to 90 days in jail.

The council voted to increase water rates for wholesale users from $3.25 per 1,000 gallons to $4.25 per 1,000 gallons. Becky Harkins, city utilities director, explained that the cost to the city to produce and provide water to wholesale users has recently increased to $3.75 per 1,000 gallons. Harkins also added that, if approved, the rate increase would take effect in 90 days, beginning with the July billing cycle. After Mayor Whitener asked Anita Weaver, chairwoman of the Fannin County Water Authority (FCWA), about the fairness of the 90-day advance notice to the FCWA, Weaver stated the Authority, one of the wholesale users that would be affected by the increase, would prefer a six-month notice. As a compromise, the council approved the rate increase, which will take effect in 120 days as opposed to 90.

In a follow-up discussion from the March 13 meeting, Councilman Gaddis stated that steps are being taken by the council in coordination with City Clerk Kelsey Ledford and City Attorney Balli to amend the city council’s rules of procedures for meetings to allow for more public commentary on action items before a final vote is taken. Gaddis explained he would like to see speakers be given a chance to address the council in an open-mic forum. He also added he did not want to place a limit on the number of speakers allowed to speak. However, Haight suggested setting a time limit for speakers, and Fitts suggested only allowing one person from a given organization or group to speak on a particular action item. Balli stated drafts of the amended rules of procedures are being composed, and Gaddis said he would like for the issue to come to a vote at the May meeting.

The future of the farmer’s market property was again addressed by the council. Haight stated she had received some feedback from two different groups interested in using the farmer’s market in some capacity. Gaddis said he personally had received no interest from anyone.

“If we don’t have anything by the next meeting, I would ask that we maybe could open this up for leasing options,” Gaddis said. “Obviously, strict leasing options to preserve the farmer’s market and everything about the history of the farmer’s market.”

After a brief executive session, the council reconvened and approved two personnel decisions. The council approved Chief Scearce to hire Ricky Henry as an officer starting at a rate of $16 an hour. Also, the hiring of Mark Patterson as water treatment plant supervisor was approved at the rate of $21.50 an hour.

 

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.

Appointments made, pay scale approved by city council

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – After an executive session to discuss personnel that lasted over an hour, the Blue Ridge City Council reconvened the public portion of their Tuesday, Feb. 13, meeting and approved a number of city employee appointments and entry-level pay scale proposals in the Water and Utilities Department.

Among the many hirings and appointments, the council appointed William Long as water distribution supervisor at a rate of $17.50 an hour, Tony Byrd as acting chief mechanic and street supervisor at a rate of $17.00 an hour, and Shannon Payne as water loss and mapping supervisor at a rate of $22.54 an hour. Each was appointed with a six-month probation period.

As for the proposed entry-level pay scale changes in the Water and Utilities Department, Mayor Whitener read the pay scale list as follows:

  • Water plant supervisor – $19.00 an hour;
  • Water treatment plant class I employee – $16.50 an hour;
  • Water treatment plant class II employee – $15.25 an hour;
  • Water treatment plant class III employee – $14.00 an hour;
  • Equipment operator – $14.00 an hour;
  • Maintenance worker – $12.50 an hour;
  • Meter technician – $12.50 an hour;
  • Customer service manager – $12.50 an hour; and
  • Utilities director – $19.00 an hour.

“These are entry level (pay scales) and most of those (positions) are already filled by somebody that’s had some tenure here,” Mayor Donna Whitener explained. The council unanimously approved the proposed pay scale.

Also discussed at the meeting was the farmer’s market property. Mayor Whitener reported the city has received recent interest from potential buyers of the property. Whitener continued stating if the city is unwilling to sell the property, a plan to refurbish the property needs to be put in place soon. Whitener explained the facility would need some water line upgrades and some re-engineering to make the space ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant “And we need to come up with a plan. We need a plan in place as to how we’re going utilize the farmer’s market,” Whitener said.

The council discussed the success of the Blairsville farmer’s market on the weekends. Whitener further clarified a decision was not to be made at the meeting but that she would like to hear feedback from the council regarding whether to sell, lease or upgrade the facility in the next 30 days.

“It’s such an amazing venue. I just cannot see us selling it,” Thomas-Haight stated. “I, personally, would not vote for that.”

While admitting the city would have to address the ADA compliance issue of the venue, Councilman Ken Gaddis concurred with Thomas-Haight’s sentiments saying, “It’s a heritage point of Fannin County. I think everybody here has been to that farmer’s market. Nobody owns that except the city of Blue Ridge, in my opinion, and the citizens … We grew up going there – I know I did – and I’d like to see the next generation of kids going there too.”

The council also reviewed a quote from KorKat Playgrounds and Site Amenities for shade covers for the downtown park playgrounds. The steel and aluminum column supports would come with a lifetime warranty while the Kevlar fabric canopies would have a 10-year limited warranty. According to Thomas-Haight, the shade cover would decrease the burn potential to children of the playground equipment during the summer months. The total cost of the shade covers would be $19,210.01, which would include a $1,500 engineering fee, according to the KorKat quote.

Kate George, of the Blue Ridge Elementary School (BRES) Cool Kids Gardening Club, spoke on behalf of the organization and told of its success. George stated the club has existed at BRES for seven years and the club typically consists of around 15 third and fourth graders. The club, George said, allows the students to gain gardening knowledge and have hands-on experiences related to gardening.

Members of the Blue Ridge Elementary School Cool Kids Gardening Club present bluebird houses to the city of Blue Ridge during the Blue Ridge City Council meeting Tuesday, Feb. 13.

“The objective of being in our garden club is to become a Junior Master Gardener,” George explained, “and at the end of the year, if these kids come to 80 percent of the meetings and take the final exam and complete two service projects, then they will become Junior Master Gardeners.”

This year, for one of those projects, the students built bluebird houses and donated them to the city of Blue Ridge, presenting the birdhouses to the council at the beginning of the meeting.

“We hope that you enjoy putting them up, and that they attract a lot of lovely bluebirds to our wonderful town,” George said.

Later, Mayor Whitener reported the city had recently received a claims check for $20,165 for storm damage to the city hall roof suffered in an April 2017 storm. The mayor explained the damaged portion was mainly confined to the old drive-through area of the building. Councilwoman Thomas-Haight stated she felt re-roofing the area would be wasteful until future parking and city hall expansion plans are determined. Haight-Thomas recommended depositing the funds into the general fund for now.

Also, the council approved a $10,000 amount to be spent toward repairs and improvements for the Blue Ridge Police Department station. The mayor explained the building has several repair needs, including plumbing, guttering, painting, flooring, ceiling and electrical improvements and repairs. “Other than that, it’s a good building,” Police Chief Johnny Scearce laughed. “Solid as a rock.”

Though the amount was approved for $10,000.00, the mayor explained the repairs should cost closer to $6,000 or $7,000. Whitener also said city Finance Director Alicia Stewart had studied the budget closely and found enough leeway to cover the full amount, if needed.

Later, the council approved a number of other expenditures:

  • A $4,200 invoice from Appalachian Cable Installers, Inc. for a four-inch bore casing for water service under state Route 515;
  • A $4,012.50 invoice from Carter & Sloope for additional engineering and consulting services for an Orchard Boulevard project;
  • A $5,164.98 quote from Sutton Tire, Inc., of Clarkesville, Georgia, for new tires for police department vehicles;
  • A $25,000 annual purchase order from Industrial Chemical for chemicals for the city water treatment plant;
  • A $4,105 purchase order from Hydocal LLC for yearly calibrations at the water treatment plant; and
  • Two invoices totaling $4,942 from Lance Trucking for gravel.

In public commentary, Cesar Martinez, president of the Blue Ridge Business Association, reminded the council and the audience of this weekend’s eighth annual Fire and Ice Chili Cook Off to be held in downtown Blue Ridge Saturday, Feb. 17, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Martinez reported 21 ice sculptures will be situated in the downtown area, 16 chili vendors will be participating in the cook off, and the Owl Creek Band will be performing.

Kit Miracle told the council of a vehicle accident she experienced at a narrow section of road on Trackside Lane where the side of the road collapsed. Miracle stated she maneuvered the vehicle to the side of the road as an oncoming vehicle was coming toward her from the other lane. Mayor Whitener explained to Miracle the council had approved the widening of the road at the last city council meeting and improvements are now proceeding.

Nancy Zimmerman asked the city to communicate with Patriot Rail and coordinate a plan to clear vegetation from the mostly unused portion of railroad tracks south of the city rail yard.

 

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.

Parsons back as zoning administrator of Blue Ridge

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – After a one hour and three minute executive session, the Blue Ridge City Council reconvened its special called meeting Thursday, Jan. 25, and announced three city personnel issues were discussed during the closed session.

Following this, the council approved the rehire of Roy Parsons to the temporary position of administrator of Land Development and Zoning. Parsons unexpectedly resigned the same position last year. Councilman Nathan Fitts abstained from voting citing he was undecided. “I’m not opposed. I just haven’t made my mind up since it’s a temporary position,” Fitts explained to Mayor Donna Whitener.

According to City Clerk Kelsey Ledford, Parson’s position is temporary as the city seeks to find a permanent administrator of Land Development and Zoning, and Parsons is expected to assist with that search.

Next, the council voted to proceed with advertising and conducting subsequent interviews for an additional full-time officer for the Blue Ridge City Police Department. “The police officer was requested by (Chief) Johnny Scearce and (Capt.) Rob Stuart. We have a shift that is not filled,” Whitener explained.

The council also promoted Kim Keenan from assistant supervisor of the city park to supervisor of Parks and Recreation Department.

Earlier in the meeting, the council held a first reading of an amendment to the city’s alcohol ordinance. Councilwoman Rhonda Thomas-Haight explained the three changes that the amendment proposes will address employee permits, ownership conflicts and pouring regulations.

The amendment would establish that employee permits will be valid for one year from the date of issue and renewal of the permit will occur upon submission of the renewal application and payment of the appropriate renewal fee, which will be no less than $30, provided that the person remains qualified for renewal. The amendment also would prohibit any city council member holding any beneficial interests in an establishment that has obtained an alcohol license from the city from voting on any matter involving the given establishment. Lastly, the amendment allows for establishments to have specials, such as happy hour specials, on poured alcoholic beverages.

The council approved the first reading of the amendment with Fitts abstaining citing a potential conflict of interest.

A change order for a previously approved shoulder erosion repair project on Trackside Lane was also approved in the public session of the meeting. The project will now also widen the roadbed of Trackside Lane in an area that Whitener described as “dangerous,” being only 16.5 feet wide and not wide enough for two vehicles to pass.

The cost of the additional widening work will be $15,580 and the cost of the original erosion repair project is $8,800. Whitener explained that funding for the original project will come from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) while the additional widening work will be paid through Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds. Whitener also told council members the shoulder work had been delayed as the city awaited final approval to proceed with the project from the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). “We finally got approval to move forward,” Whitener stated.

Johnson Paving has been awarded the bid for both projects.

 

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.

Syfan out as city attorney, Chief Scearce likely soon to follow

News, Videos

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Attorney James Balli, of the Marietta law firm of Sams, Larkin, Huff & Balli, was appointed Tuesday, Jan. 9, to replace David Syfan as city attorney during the first Blue Ridge City Council of the new year and administration. Balli’s appointment was approved by the council four to one with incumbent Post 1 Council Member Harold Herndon voting against the appointment.

Mayor Donna Whitener also explained Balli’s rate would be $175 an hour with no retainer fee, and only four applications for the position were received by the city.

Additionally, a decision was made later in the meeting to begin proceedings to replace Blue Ridge City Police Chief Johnny Scearce. After Whitener asked Balli to explain the council’s options according to the city charter, Balli stated the council basically had two: either to “nominate and appoint a permanent police chief or you can make a motion … to allow someone to act as an interim chief until such time as the mayor and the city council approve a permanent chief.”

Interim Blue Ridge Police Chief Johnny Scearce, right, speaks with local resident prior to Tuesday’s city council meeting.

When Whitener asked if it was possible to have a vacancy, Balli stated he did not recommend this.

After this, newly appointed Post 3 Council Member Kenneth Gaddis made a motion for Scearce to serve as interim police chief until the mayor and council are able to find a permanent police chief. After a second from new Post 5 Council Member Nathan Fitts, the council voted unanimously to approve the transition.

The two moves followed the oaths of office from incumbents Mayor Whitener and Council Members Herndon and Rhonda Thomas-Haight as well as incoming Council Members Gaddis, Fitts and Robbie Cornelius.

Thomas-Haight was also voted to serve as mayor pro tempore of Blue Ridge. Other appointments included Kelsey Ledford and Alicia Stewart remaining as city clerk and city treasurer, respectively, Robert Sneed as municipal court judge, Joseph Hudson as prosecuting attorney of court appointments and Welch, Walker & Associates as the city’s designated auditor.

Blue Ridge Mayor Donna Whitener, left, takes the oath of office as her daughter, Kristen, holds the Bible.

Local architect David Goodspeed was also approved to serve as interim building inspector for the city’s Zoning and Land Development department. Thomas-Haight stated in her motion that Goodspeed would serve the city on a limited basis, working between 12 to 16 hours a week on average at the rate of $100 an hour.

Continue to follow this story on FetchYourNews as more details and the video from the meeting are made available.

[Featured image: Mayor Donna Whitener, left, new City Attorney James Balli and Mayor Pro Tempore and Council Member Rhonda Thomas-Haight conduct business during the Tuesday, Jan. 9, Blue Ridge City Council 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

 

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.

Light Up Blue Ridge, parade draws thousands

Community

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The weather was chilly, but the spirits were warm and bright Saturday afternoon and evening during the Light Up Blue Ridge holiday celebration.

The day began with an arrival of a very special guest from the far north when Santa Claus arrived on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway and greeted children, with wishlists in hand, in the downtown city park all afternoon. Storefronts decorated for the fourth annual Holiday Storefront Decorating Contest greeted shoppers up and down the downtown streets as many attempted to get an early jump on their Christmas shopping.

Throughout the day, several musical and theatrical acts entertained passersby at various places all afternoon including the Fannin County High School (FCHS) Theater Group and a barbershop quartet, both of whom performed at Sycamore Crossing, as well as Voices of Hope and a children’s choir led by Connie Davis.

One of the houses in the Gingerbread Village at the BRMAA Art Center.

Over on West Main St., the Blue Ridge Mountains Art Association Art Center hosted the annual Gingerbread House Village for those wanting to take a quick break and warm up from the busy and blustery downtown streets.

By 5:30, night had fallen in north Georgia, and it was time for the annual Blue Ridge Christmas Parade. Starting near First Baptist Church, the parade looped down East Main, Mountain and West Main streets, which were all lined with excited faces, young and old, packed earmuff to earmuff on the sidewalks to take in all of the festivities as well as a few pocketfuls of candy.

The parade featured a number of creatively designed Holiday floats, patriotically adorned Fannin County fire engines, antique cars and tractors, the FCHS Marching Band and even a few local dignitaries as City Councilman Elect Nathan Fitts and Shannon York served as MCs for the night.

The PruittHealth Train Float chugs its way down East Main Street during the annual Blue Ridge Christmas Parade.

Blue Ridge Police Chief Johnny Scearce led the way down the the route in his squad car followed by Mayor Donna Whitener and City Councilwoman Rhonda Thomas close behind in convertibles draped with Christmas lights and City Councilwoman Elect Robbie Cornelius following shortly behind them.

Fannin County Fire and Rescue Chief Larry Thomas escorted Georgia State Senator Steve Gooch in his familiar white truck as Gooch and his family visited Blue Ridge for the day to take in the Holiday celebration and treats.

Georgia Senator Steve Gooch and Fannin County Fire Chief Larry Thomas.

The Fannin and Copper Basin Girl Scouts council marched the route with smiling faces and handfuls of candy to the delight of several youngsters lining the sidewalks.

The FCHS Color Guard and Marching Band served up several rousing renditions of everyone’s favorite Holiday tunes while the Drumline joyfully pounded out the beat on instruments encompassed with red and green Christmas lights.

Several businesses and organizations, including Mercier Orchards, The Home Depot, the Blue Ridge Community Theater and PruittHealth of Blue Ridge among others, contributed elaborately designed floats and displays for the parade. On the Special Olympics float, Snoopy even took time to  make an appearance.

Mary and Joseph keeps watch over Baby Jesus during the Blue Ridge Christmas Parade.

On another float, the Reason for the Season was portrayed as Mary and Joseph watched over Baby Jesus, who was “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

Rounding out the parade was Jolly Ole Saint Nicholas, who was escorted down the route in an antique 1930 Ford. Later, Santa took center stage in the park as he assisted Shannon York with the lighting of the 27-foot tall Great Tree to the amazement of many enthusiastic onlookers.

As the night quickly grew colder, country music star Collin Raye warmed the hearts of the crowd with a soulful version of O, Holy Night.

Holiday festivities will continue on weekends throughout the season in downtown Blue Ridge leading up to Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year is officially underway.

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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.

VIDEO: Is it Possible a High Rolling Gambler is Running in Blue Ridge?

Community, FYNTV, GMFTO, Politics

How important is it to know how our candidates live their lives outside of politics?

Paraphrased from GMFTO on FYNTV:

Would you want a City Council Member that was a high roller?

Would you vote for a candidate that REGULARLY gambled hundreds of thousands of dollars?

I don’t know yet, but I understand it is possible that a candidate is a casino regular, maybe not just a regular, but possibly a high roller?

The source can’t be revealed, and it isn’t 100% verified, but this is a source that would KNOW!

 

Author

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