Farmer’s market property, drive-in discussed at council meeting

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[Featured image: Jim Sisson, left, of Sisson Log Homes, discusses the possibility of purchasing the farmer’s market property from the city with council members Ken Gaddis, second from left, Nathan Fitts, Mayor Donna Whitener, and City Attorney James Balli.]

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – In a three-hour Blue Ridge City Council meeting Tuesday night, March 13, a wide variety of topics took center stage.

The future of the farmer’s market property off of Summit Street was discussed again. Last month, the council weighed options for the property moving forward and discussed whether to sell, lease or refurbish the property. Strong opposition to sell was voiced by Councilwoman Rhonda Haight and Councilman Ken Gaddis and the council agreed to discuss the issue further at a following meeting.

This month, Jim Sisson, owner of Sisson Log Homes, was present to propose selling the property in a bidding process. Sisson spoke of recent uses, such as held festivals and overflow parking, for the property and stated the property was not an ideal location for either purpose. He also described the property as “negative-performing asset,” meaning that it is and would cost the city more to operate it than the revenue the property would generate. Sisson cited costs for liability insurance and utilities as necessary operating expenditures to the city. Mayor Donna Whitener estimated the city spends between $6,000 and $10,000 a year on utilities alone for the property.

“If you were to sell it us or somebody else, it would at least be bringing in some tax revenue,” Sisson continued.

Whitener mentioned in earlier talks with Sisson, the prospect of leasing the property was discussed. “Have you put any thought into that?” Whitener asked Sisson.

Sisson responded saying his company would prefer to buy the property but would consider leasing it instead. He also added that the property would be used as an overflow area for Sisson Log Homes to store materials in the drying process and no damage would come to the property. “Probably, (we would) not use the platform that is there,” Sisson said.

No decision was made by the council to proceed with any process of either selling or leasing the property.

Another city landmark, the Swan Drive-In, was discussed during the council meeting. Earlier in the day, the city released a statement via social media addressing and denying rumors of the city attempting to close the drive-in as a result of noise complaints received from nearby residents.

In that post, city representatives stated, “The city is committed to working with stakeholders on both sides of the issue to reach a solution that continues to allow the Swan to operate as one of the City’s favorite attractions.”

At the council meeting, City Attorney James Balli also addressed the concern saying, “Let me be clear: the drive-in is going nowhere. I will say that one more time very slowly. The drive-in is going nowhere. The city owns the drive-in. The drive-in will operate. If I had anything to do with shutting down the drive-in, my wife would make me sleep on the couch … I’ve enjoyed it just as many of you have. It’s an attraction to the city.”

However, Balli continued to say the city was beginning to look into various options to address the noise ordinance complaints stemming from the drive-in. The city attorney also stated the operator of the drive-in is exploring methods to reduce noise emanating from the site.

“We would always favor citizens working things out privately without any involvement from the city,” Balli said, adding the city was confident a mutual agreement would soon be reached.

Whitener told the council she visited the drive-in over the previous weekend and was told a 20-foot-high, 100-foot-long noise buffering screen is slated to be installed soon. “So, we won’t know (of the screen’s effectiveness) until it goes up. So give us a chance to work through that,” Whitener said.

Later, Councilman Ken Gaddis spoke of the city’s current policy for meeting decorum. Gaddis stated, “The previous council took a stand to where public comments was not necessary, was not required and definitely was not important.”

Garnering applause from the audience, Gaddis explained he would like to see any item requiring a motion go to public comment before moving to a vote from the council.

“I don’t come up and say I know anything really,” Gaddis continued. “You all voted me in. For whatever reason, you all thought I was important. I came up here with a skill set to help with infrastructure, but everybody in the community has a skill set that’s beyond me, beyond (Councilman) Nathan (Fitts), beyond all of us, and you have an important voice and we want to hear that voice.”

Councilwoman Rhonda Haight agreed with Gaddis and clarified she did not vote on the decision to limit public commentary in the last term.

“However … I’ve seen meetings that have lasted until 11 p.m. I’ve seen meetings that have gotten completely out of control, so we would have to have control. We would have to have time limits on speech,” Haight stated.

Fitts also agreed with both Gaddis on bringing back increased public commentary and with Haight on enforcing order throughout the meeting.

Mayor Whitener explained City Clerk Kelsey Ledford was currently working to amend the meeting policy to allow for more commentary.

A budget amendment to account for incoming funds from a Georgia Municipal Association safety grant, maintenance to City Hall and the Police Department buildings, the hiring of a zoning and land development administrator, and revised pay scales for water department employees was approved by the council.

A conflict of interest exemption statement was approved by the council concerning the $500,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) awarded to the city in 2016 to upgrade water and fire protection infrastructure in portions of neighborhoods east of or near East Second Street. The statement gave public notice of technical conflicts of interest among city council members who either live or own property in the area, have family members who live in the area and/or have business interests in the area.

A town hall meeting was announced to take place at City Hall March 27 at 6 p.m. Mayor Whitener explained the meeting will address public concerns over the CDBG project, which she stated should be halfway completed by then, the farmer’s market property, the city pool, and downtown restrooms among other topics.

In other business, the council discussed the abandonment of an undeveloped portion of Hill Street near East First Street and another unnamed street near the BP gas station on West First Street.

The council also approved an annual $1,500 donation to the Humane Society for the spay and neuter of feral cats throughout Blue Ridge.

A resolution to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Fannin County, McCaysville and Morganton was approved. The memorandum of understanding is an agreement between the entities to share costs for the Nixle emergency management agency (EMA) notification service to residents and citizens.

A resolution declaring April 22 through 28, 2018, to be Georgia Cities Week in Blue Ridge approved and signed by Mayor Whitener.

In public commentary, President of the Blue Ridge Business Association (BRBA) Cesar Martinez stressed to the council the continued need for additional public parking and bathrooms in the downtown business district. Martinez offered the help of the BRBA in forming committees or focus groups to address the situation. In response, Fitts told Martinez both items were top priorities for the council. “We’re not ignoring these. We have a lot going on right now. We are diligently working on them,” Fitts said.

Local sculptor Martin McHan, who created the Blue Bear sculpture that has previously been displayed in the downtown city park, asked about the sculpture’s condition and the kiln-drying process it is currently undergoing. The sculpture was recently removed from the park after a termite infestation was discovered within it. The bear was then transferred to a large kiln operated by Sisson Log Homes in an effort to exterminate the termites. Mayor Whitener explained to McHan after the kiln-drying process is complete, the bear would be painted, restored to the park and the city plans to erect a shelter to protect the sculpture from the weather.

McHan then addressed Jim Sisson directly saying, “Mr. Sisson, I’d like to personally, from the bottom of my heart, thank you … I’d like to thank you for putting (the sculpture) in that kiln because I know how much that costs … It’s a very, very expensive process that this man has donated.”

 

 

 

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.

Transparency discussed at Blue Ridge City Council meeting

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – “Transparency” was a word heard and a topic addressed frequently during the Tuesday, Feb. 13, Blue Ridge City Council meeting.

The topic discussion began in earnest during the council’s first reading and adoption of a purchasing policy amendment. The amendment was explained by Blue Ridge Finance Director Alicia Stewart after Council Member Rhonda Thomas-Haight recommended the policy’s changes be read in an effort to produce “transparency with the audience.”

Blue Ridge City Council, from left, front: Mayor Donna Whitener, council members Rhonda Thomas, Robbie Cornelius; back: council members Harold Herndon, Nathan Fitts and Kenneth Gaddis.

According to the amended policy, the changes will allow purchases up to $500 to be approved by a city department supervisor or the city clerk in a single transaction with no required quotes. Purchases between $500.01 and $2,500 will require one supplier quote, verbal or written, and approval from the department supervisor. Purchases between $2,500.01 and $5,000 will require one written quote, approval of the department supervisor and written authorization of an elected city official. For purchases from $5,000 to $99,999.99, two written quotes, bids, or proposals will be required along with approval from the city council prior to issuance of a purchase order.

Any expenditure over $100,000 whether supplies, equipment or service contracts will “require a contract and
sealed bids or proposals and shall be advertised in the legal organ a minimum of two times, with the first advertisement occurring at least four weeks prior to the opening of sealed bids or proposals.” Also, council approval will be required for these expenditures.

When asked by an audience member why the changes were being made to raise the spending thresholds, Stewart stated the new city council requested the changes to give more responsibility and freedom to department supervisors to make needed expenditures within their allotted budgets.

“An example: we had an issue where we had a fire hydrant that was damaged and (Water and Utilities Director) Becky (Harkins) couldn’t even order a fire hydrant without getting three council members to approve (along with) a department head and all those things,” Mayor Donna Whitener said, “and when a fire hydrant is leaking, you really need to get it replaced or you’re going to have a lot of water on the ground. So, it’s enough to take care of emergency purchases like that.”

After Brian Pritchard, publisher of FetchYourNews, questioned the council about the $100,000 limit and the requirement of bids, Stewart reiterated bids would still be required for purchases below $100,000.00, but the public procedure of advertising the request for bids through the legal organ for four weeks would not be required.

Also, the amendment as originally drafted would have raised meal allowances for city officials on city business trips from $30 a day to $40. However, after council members Robbie Cornelius and Ken Gaddis agreed the amount should be left at $30, the amendment was approved provided the meal allowance remain unchanged.

Later, a conflict of interest disclosure was read concerning a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) awarded to the city in 2016 to upgrade water and fire protection infrastructure in portions of neighborhoods east of or near East Second Street. The disclosure gave public notice of technical conflicts of interest among all city council members, except Gaddis, who either live or own property in the area, have family members who live in the area and/or have business interests in the area. Whitener said that although a similar statement was read previously concerning the project, it occurred during the previous city council administration. The mayor further explained there were similar conflicts among the former council members as well.

“Hopefully, since we’ve read the conflict, there shouldn’t be any issues with that,” Thomas-Haight explained, “because it is transparent.”

Of the public notice, City Clerk Kelsey Ledford explained, “We’ve disclosed all of our conflicts of interest and then at our next council meeting, we’ll have all the paperwork to formally request an exception to the conflicts of interest.”

Also concerning the CDBG project, the council approved to add Ledford to the bank account designated for the project, approved the contract from The Renee Group, the construction firm that will be overseeing the project, and gave approval to Mayor Whitener to sign the notice to proceed with the project after City Attorney James Balli reviews the notice.

Before the council entered into executive session to discuss personnel issues, Pritchard again addressed the council, asking them about the possibility of utilizing workshops, similar to those seen during the former administration, to allow for better transparency to citizens. “This is the second regular meeting and one special called meeting (during the new administration) and you’re doing a lot of first readings, and I’m really not understanding where the council is having these discussions,” Pritchard stated.

Mayor Whitener stated, in regard to the purchasing policy amendment, that she, council member Harold Herndon and all the department supervisors had a previous meeting to discuss the changes to the policy.

“The citizens don’t know this till they get here … You made a major first reading on a purchasing policy tonight,” Pritchard continued. “Could you go back to workshops because I just have a little concern on transparency?”

To this, Thomas-Haight replied, “You will notice too tonight, we have taken interaction from the audience. Our previous council did not do that, and we want people to be involved … We are 100 percent transparent and we are allowed by law to communicate with each other via email, we can call each other … We talk all the time, but we’re not breaking the Sunshine Law because we don’t meet.”

“All I ask is if you could look at (using) workshops. That’s it,” Pritchard said again.

“We’ll consider it,” Thomas-Haight told Pritchard.

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.

New downtown Blue Ridge parking lot is open

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Officials with the city of Blue Ridge announced Thursday, Feb. 1, a new city parking lot is now open and available for downtown visitors to use.

The lot, located on West Main Street between Mountain and Messer streets where Temple Baptist Church once stood, has a per-car, cash only fee of five dollars.

Parking booth located at the entrance of the new Blue Ridge city parking lot on West Main Street.

Parking patrons will need to pick up an envelope containing a perforated ticket from the side of the red-colored parking booth at the entrance to the lot. After filling out the main portion of the ticket with the driver’s name and telephone number, vehicle model, license tag number and date, the stub of the ticket should be placed somewhere in clear view on the dash of the vehicle and the main portion of the ticket, along with five dollars cash, can be dropped in the lock box atop the red booth using the envelope to seal the contents.

Visitors using the parking lot are encouraged to lock their vehicles and take any valuables with them. Overnight parking is not permitted at the lot, and the city of Blue Ridge is not responsible for any damage to and/or theft from vehicles parked in the lot.

At their Jan. 9 meeting, the Blue Ridge City Council voted to enter into a lease with Blue Ridge Hotel, LLC to use the lot for parking until mid-July. As rent for use of the lot, the city will share a 50/50 revenue split with Blue Ridge Hotel, LLC after expenses related to the city’s operation of the lot are deducted. The lot is expected to hold up to 300 vehicles.

“The mayor and council are dedicated to finding a long-term solution to the parking issues we face in downtown Blue

Parking patrons at the West Main Street lot will need to fill out this parking ticket provided by the city of Blue Ridge.

Ridge,” Councilwoman Rhonda Thomas-Haight stated on the city’s Facebook page. “While we work on a comprehensive plan, we are pleased to welcome this short-term solution.”

 

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.

City attorney decision discussed by Whitener, Thomas-Haight

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Following the recent hiring of new Blue Ridge city attorney, James A. Balli, at the Jan. 9 city council meeting, Mayor Donna Whitener and Councilwoman Rhonda Thomas-Haight spoke with FetchYourNews about some of the details regarding the city’s decision to replace former city attorney David Syfan with Balli.

Providing specific reasons for replacing Syfan, both Whitener and Thomas-Haight expressed the need for a change in representation.  “(Syfan’s) been with the city for 20 years,” Thomas-Haight stated. “It’s time for a change. Of course, every four years, we appoint that position, and (with) the new council, we just felt like it was time for a change.”

“As I’ve mentioned several times, I felt like (Syfan) didn’t represent the entire group (of the mayor and council members),” Whitener added. “I want a city attorney that works for all six of us and for the city and the citizens.”

The mayor went on to clarify that Balli has not represented any of the city council members or herself previously. She said, “Of course, that became a little bit of an issue … (The new council) felt like they wanted somebody that represented all of us on an equal playing field.”

Mayor Donna Whitener, left, City Attorney James Balli and Councilwoman Rhonda Thomas-Haight attend the Jan. 9 Blue Ridge City Council meeting.

During the city council meeting, in which Balli was hired, Whitener explained that four candidates, in addition to Syfan, applied for the position of city attorney. Balli was inevitably hired at a reduced rate of $175 per hour with a rate of $200 per hour for time spent representing the city in court. Among the other attorneys who applied for the position were local attorneys Lynn Doss and Cortney Stuart, whose clients include Fannin County and city of McCaysville, respectively, and Atlanta attorney Kelly Michael Hundley, who currently represents the city of Hiram, Georgia, according to information obtained from the city of Blue Ridge.

Doss, who, according to Whitener and Thomas-Haight, withdrew her application from consideration prior to the council meeting, had offered her services to the city at the per-hour rate of $175. Stuart offered a rate of $150 per hour with a $100 monthly retainer fee. Hundley proposed a rate of $150 per hour with a $175 per hour rate for legal proceeding representation.

Though Syfan’s previous per-hour rate of $95 was considerably lower than that of Balli’s current rate, Thomas-Haight explained, “I know sometimes it appeared, in my opinion, as if projects seemed to take a long time.”

In regard to the potential hiring of Stuart, Whitener explained that the Georgia Municipal Association, which provides legislative advocacy and consulting services to member cities, had advised the city against such a relationship citing a potential representational conflict of interest.

The mayor further explained that the proper channels of advertisement for the position were utilized through publication in the legal organ. Whitener also stated that she, as well as all incoming city council members except Harold Herndon, had a chance to meet with Balli individually ahead of the meeting in order to make a determination to hire Balli. Whitener stated Herndon was unable to meet with Balli during any of the attorney’s trips to Blue Ridge due to illness.

“I felt good about (meeting with Balli) because he took the time to reach out to us and wanted to meet us and make sure we all could mesh together if we did choose his firm,” Thomas-Haight said.

“Mr. Balli seems to be a good fit for our city,” Thomas-Haight continued. “He is anxious to work with us, and we seem to all be on the same page with how we want to move forward with the city. He wants to be involved in our council meetings and that was a definite plus because Mr. Syfan, even though the charter states that the (city) attorney shall attend the meetings, he had only been to – to my recollection – five (meetings) in eight years.”

Whitener stated Balli has municipal experience and familiarity with water management. According to Balli’s submitted resume to the city, he currently serves as a board member on the Cobb-Marietta Water Authority.

“Becky (Harkins, director of Blue Ridge Water and Utilities department) was extremely impressed because of his water knowledge, and we’re really working on our policies and procedures, so she felt like he would be very beneficial to us in getting those standards to where they need to be,” Mayor Whitener continued.

So who is James A. Balli?

According to Balli’s resume, he received a B.S. in political science from Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Georgia, in 1996 and later received his Juris Doctorate from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University in 1999. Also in 1999, Balli was admitted to the State Bar of Georgia and in 2000 was admitted to the State Bar of Alabama.

Balli served in the United States Air Force Reserve from 1992 to 2000 at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.

Balli currently serves as commissioner on the seven-member Judicial Qualifications Commission of Georgia, which investigates allegations of judicial misconduct of all judges in the state of Georgia. He also currently serves as a board member of the Kennesaw State University Masters of Public Administration Advisory Board where he provides advice and direction to masters’ program students and faculty. Balli has been admitted to practice before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals, the Georgia Court of Appeals, the Alabama Supreme Court, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, the Middle Districts of Georgia and Alabama, and the Northern District of Georgia.

Among his recent experience, Balli represented the Atlanta Braves during the organization’s recent move from Fulton County to Cobb County, and his other recent clients have included (David) Ralston for Representative, Inc., BrandsMart USA, and the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners.

Balli is a partner at the Marietta law firm Sams, Larkin, Huff & Balli, LLP, which has represented both county governments on related development issues and commercial and private interests on a variety of issues involving elected officials from state, county and municipal governments.

Commenting on his new position with the city, Balli stated, “I am honored to have the opportunity to serve the citizens of Blue Ridge and to work with the mayor and city council as they work to serve the citizens as well. I think Blue Ridge is the best small town in the state of Georgia, and I am excited to be a part of it moving forward.”

Continue to follow FetchYourNews as we plan to produce a six-month financial comparison of the previous city attorney fees to that of the current city attorney in mid-July.

 

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.

Appointments made, pay scale approved by city council

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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

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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.

 

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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.

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