Board of Assessors again questions 2018 budget

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Assessors (BOA) discussed the department’s proposed 2018 budget one last time at their regular meeting Tuesday, Dec. 12, ahead of the final adoption of the entire county budget later that evening during the Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting.

At a Nov. 29 called meeting of the assessors, the assessors agreed to speak individually with BOC Chairman Stan Helton and post commissioners Earl Johnson and Larry Joe Sosebee about potential cuts by the BOC to the assessors requested 2018 budget.

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran reported to the Board of Assessors Tuesday those meetings did take place since the Nov. 29 called meeting and that she had a chance to explain her concerns to the BOC.

“Both post commissioners were willing to review these line items (of the budget) with myself, and after both meetings, the post commissioners stated that they would get with (County Finance Director) Robin Gazaway and go from there,” Cochran told the assessors.

Cochran further explained she along with Board of Assessors Chairman Lane Bishop met with Helton and Gazaway about the proposed budget again Dec. 11.

“That meeting resulted in Mr. Helton stating that his position was to leave the budget just as was recommended (by the BOC) and that if the Board of Assessors run into any issues with their budget in 2018 that they can come back to the Board of Commissioners at that time and revisit the budget needs,” Cochran continued.

As in the Nov. 29 assessors meeting, Bishop again brought up the need for an additional vehicle to be added to the assessors fleet and the additional 10,000 parcels yet to be assessed by the department across the county. The assessors requested $40,000 in capital outlay for 2018, $22,000 of which was hoped to be used to purchase another vehicle. The commissioners recommended amount for this line item was $15,000.

“We are being unfair to the rest of the taxpayers of Fannin County that have gone through these appeals and that we’ve gone out to visit … This other 10,000 – they’re going to (be appraised). We’re going to do it,” Bishop stated.

To this, Cochran agreed that assessing the remaining 10,000 parcels would not only add to the county tax digest but also provide uniform treatment to all county taxpayers.

Assessor Anthony Holloway inquired about the cut in capital outlay and the $21,000 cut in education to the department from the requested amount and asked, “So, the cuts that they (BOC) have proposed … how do you deal with that?”

“Right now, I don’t know how we’re going to handle it,” Cochran replied.

After this, Bishop stated he was told by the BOC to “make do with you’ve got. That’s exactly what we were told … That’s sort of a flippant kind of answer.”

The final approved budget for the Board of Assessors for 2018, as approved by the commissioners, is $848,265. The assessors requested budget was $977,370.

Also, during the assessors meeting, Cochran presented a draft of the department’s revised locked gate/access denied policy for approval by the Board, but after Bishop inquired whether the draft had been forwarded to County Attorney Lynn Doss for review, Cochran explained the policy was not yet given to Doss. The Board then tabled the approval of the policy so as to give Doss a chance to review it and decided to revisit the policy again afterwards.

The draft of the proposed policy contains four steps. Once approved, upon first visit to a parcel, a door knocker complete with date, appraiser and reason for the visit would be hung at the gate of the parcel. After that, a phone call to the legal owner of the property would be made, if possible. If no contact can be made at that point, a certified letter would be mailed to the property owner again requesting access. Finally, if the department still does not receive a response, the assessors would utilize any information, such as aerial photography, building and/or septic permits and real estate ads and/or listings, to estimate a value for all structures on the property.

The Board also approved the 2017 pre-bill digest for mobile homes and approved that digest’s upload to Harris Govern, the computer software vendor of the Fannin County Tax Commissioners office. According the information presented by Cochran to the assessors, the total count of mobile homes in Fannin is 1,193 for a total fair market value of $13,346,429.

Approval of upload and mailing of the 2018 personal property reporting forms was given by the assessors. Cochran explained the reporting forms are sent out to business owners or owners of boats or airplanes at the end of each year, and that these taxpayers are responsible for returning the forms to the assessors office. According to Cochran, the assessors office utilizes an independent vendor to print and mail out the forms to taxpayers, and the cost of using the vendor will be $2,996 for 2018, which is the same amount as in 2017.

BOA Chairman Bishop also addressed the recent public hearing on the potential school tax exemption for seniors held Nov. 16 in the jury assembly room of the Fannin County Courthouse, at which Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston and state Senator Steve Gooch heard from opponents and supporters of the potential exemption. Bishop explained there were already three types of tax breaks in place for senior taxpayers based on age and income qualifications of which he feared taxpayers are unaware. The chairman directed Cochran to draft a press release to give to the media detailing the three avenues of tax relief already available to seniors.

The assessors approved a number of invoices, one of which was $1,739.97 for the purchase orders of three new iPad Pros. Cochran stated one of the new iPads would be added to the department’s inventory while the other two would replace existing iPads. Also, protective cases for the iPads were purchased for $292. Additionally, approval was made for the final payment of $13,297.50 for 2017 to Data Cloud for technical and maintenance support for the handheld iPads used by field appraisers.

The department also approved an expenditure of $9,271.50 for upgrades to the Data Cloud system, advanced mapping and six new laser distance measurers. The Leica Disto E7500i 650-foot laser measurers, Cochran said, would be an upgrade for the department from the traditional 200-foot tape measures currently be used by field appraisers. The expenditure will come from the 2017 tax assessors capital outlay fund.

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Animal activists and rescuers speak at BOC meeting

Citizens Speak, Community

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Animal activists and members of local animal rescue groups were present to have their voices heard again at the Nov. 28 Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting.

Taking the opportunity to speak during the public commentary portion of the meeting, residents addressed their concerns to the board. One resident spoke of the need for the inside of the animal control facility, located at 1001 Fannin Industrial Park in Blue Ridge, to be painted and updated.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Fannin County Board of Commissioners, Fannin County Animal Control, FCAC, Tri State Pet Rescue, Chairman, Post One Commissioner, Post Two Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Jan Eaton, Ralph Garner, John Drullinger

Jan Eaton addresses the board holding a crate tray that she received from FCAC.

Tri State Pet Rescue founder Jan Eaton spoke to the board regarding equipment currently used by Fannin County Animal Control (FCAC). Holding a tray used in the bottom of an animal crate, Eaton said, “With me tonight, I brought a tray that came out of the bottom of a crate that an animal was being housed in at Fannin Animal Control.”

The tray was visibly broken in two. “It is pretty sad that this is the best our county can do for the animals at animal control,” Eaton added.

Eaton went on to point out that at all of the meetings she has attended, department heads often speak to the board asking for specific needs for their department, and that she has yet to see FCAC Department Head John Drullinger do so.

Stating that the board spends “millions here and there,” Eaton said she thinks that the needs of FCAC are often overshadowed by other projects.

Earlier this year, the Board of Commissioners approved upgrades to the animal control facility. BOC Chairman Stan Helton and Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee voted to install guillotine doors to the existing kennels; Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson abstained from voting on this issue.

The approved improvements called for fourteen outdoor runs to the facility, as well as guillotine doors to allow the dogs to access these runs from their indoor kennels.

Helton stated at the time, “Not only will this improve living conditions for the dogs but will also allow animal control staff to safely access kennels for cleaning and feeding.”

FetchYourNews asked Eaton how she felt about the improvements that had been approved by the board for the animal control facility. Eaton replied, “They’re doing that. There is just a wealth of things that need to be done.”

Ralph Garner, of Blue Ridge, also spoke during public commentary. Wanting to see changes take place at FCAC he urged Johnson and  Sosebee to take action.

“I really am asking post commissioners to take the initiative regarding any complaints about animal control,” Garner pled. “As I look back over the past eight years of the previous chairman, the most significant accomplishments that occurred were done by you two gentlemen.”

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Fannin County Board of Commissioners, Fannin County Animal Control, FCAC, Tri State Pet Rescue, Chairman, Post One Commissioner, Post Two Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Jan Eaton, Ralph Garner, John Drullinger

Photo from FCAC Facbook page showing a dog temporarily housed in a FCAC crate.

Garner’s appeal did not go unnoticed. As the meeting came to an end, Sosebee spoke up about issues that were raised concerning animal control and addressed Eaton’s display of the broken crate tray.

“These trays you brought in … I’m an animal lover, I guess you could say as well,” Sosebee continued, turning to the other commissioners, “and guys I would like to find some way to buy some crates for animal control. If we could possibly do so, I don’t think it would be too much to ask.”

FCAC Department Head John Drullinger addressed the issue of the crate tray brought to the meeting by Eaton. He explained it is not uncommon for FCAC to be filled to capacity. Drullinger stated, “This is because we want to use euthanasia as only an ultimate last resort.”

When FCAC is filled beyond capacity, animals that are brought in are sometimes temporarily housed in individual crates instead of kennel runs.

In this case, Drullinger explained, “We were over capacity but had commitments from rescues to pull some of our dogs very soon. Rather than buy a new crate to house this dog for one day, we borrowed one. The crate was not county property.”

Drullinger added, “All of our (FCAC) crates are in good condition.”

 

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

BOC takes steps to improve Lake Blue Ridge Hiking Trail

News, Parks and Recreation

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Fannin County could see improvements to local hiking trails. At the Nov. 28 Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting, commissioners took steps to help secure funding for the Lake Blue Ridge Hiking Trail.

This area includes the Green Creek Campground. “It’s a beautiful little area, but it hasn’t been utilized in quite some time,” Fannin County BOC Chairman Stan Helton remarked.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Post One Commissioner, Post Two Commissioner, Chairman, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Finance Director, Robin Gazaway, Parks and Recreation, Eddie O'Neal, Development Authority, Lake Blue Ridge Hiking Trail, Green Creek Campground, SPLOST, General Fund, Hotel/Motel Tax, Fannin County Attorney, Lynn Doss, Coca-Cola

A view from Lake Blue Ridge Hiking Trail.

“The Development Authority has been working on an arrangement with the Forest Service where we would improve areas, the trailheads, make some ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility along this trail,” Helton explained.

Helton went on to say, “This is a recreational trail grant. It is the second one we’ve actually applied for in the county. Maybe that will increase our odds of getting at least one of them.”

If obtained, the county would have to finance the projects up to $200,000. The grant would then make reimbursements to the county for 80 percent of funds spent.

The commissioners unanimously agreed to sign a resolution, which will allow the Development Authority to move forward with the application process to acquire grant money for improvements to the Lake Blue Ridge trail.

Director of Fannin County Parks and Recreation Eddie O’Neal was present at the meeting to submit a five-year contract renewal to the commissioners. This contract renewal would make Coca-Cola the exclusive provider of beverages for Fannin County concessions.

Describing the contract, O’Neal said, “It is just a basic beverage agreement, to re-up our contract with Coca-Cola. They will be basically your sole provider … to continue their service and delivery they provide to us for all the concessions.”

Coca-Cola recently reinstated a program to provide scoreboards for counties who choose Coca-Cola as their main supplier. In the contract renewal, Coca-Cola will provide Fannin County with three new LED scoreboards.

O’Neal informed commissioners that installation would be the only cost to the county. Helton questioned, “And they will do maintenance repairs on the scoreboards for us?”

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Post One Commissioner, Post Two Commissioner, Chairman, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Finance Director, Robin Gazaway, Parks and Recreation, Eddie O'Neal, Development Authority, Lake Blue Ridge Hiking Trail, Green Creek Campground, SPLOST, General Fund, Hotel/Motel Tax, Fannin County Attorney, Lynn Doss, Coca-Cola

Eddie O’Neal discusses renewal of Coca-Cola contract with BOC.

To this, O’Neal responded that Coca-Cola would indeed be responsible for repairs. Two of these scoreboards will be delivered in 2018, and the third will come in 2019.

Before signing the contract Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson discussed the possibility of price increases with the contract and asked O’Neal, “So this is a set price throughout the remainder of the contract?”

O’Neal explained that Coca-Cola had the option of increasing the price by three percent each year, but could not go over that percentage. BOC Chairman Stan Helton motioned to sign the contract, Johnson seconded the motion and all three commissioners approved the renewal of the Coca-Cola contract with the county.

Christmas bonuses for county employees were also approved. Helton and Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee discussed staying with tradition and approving $100 bonuses for all county employees.

Helton asked Johnson for his input on the bonuses to which Johnson replied, “I’m not going to be Ebenezer.” The bonuses were unanimously approved by the board.

Finance Director Robin Gazaway sought approval for the opening of two new bank accounts to earmark certain percentages of SPLOST funds for specific projects.

Gazaway stated, “I wanted to separate the money for each of the different (projects). Right now we have the roads and bridges, and we have the capital improvements. This new one we are going have roads and bridges, capital improvements, recreation department, and the admin(istration) parking deck.”

Sosebee pointed out that separating the accounts would be a positive step and would make for “more accountability.”

Discussion of these accounts lead Johnson to bring forward a long standing issue he has had with the hotel/motel tax being deposited into the general fund.

Johnson would like to be able to present the public with a more accurate account of where this money is being spent. All commissioners agreed this is an issue that should be addressed and would like to discuss setting up a public workshop on the matter in early 2018.

Johnson also took time at the end of the meeting to discuss items brought up at the Nov. 14 BOC meeting. He questioned when the commissioners would address whether or not County Attorney Lynn Doss would represent the entire board or would continue to only represent the BOC Chairman.

Sosebee felt that this matter would be better resolved if addressed after the passing of the 2018 Budget and after the holidays. Sosebee and Johnson agreed to revisit the issue in the beginning of the new year.

 

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

BOC motions to raise speed limit on Old Hwy. 76

Community, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Residents may have noticed a change to the speed limit on Old Hwy. 76 this week. The Board of Commissioners (BOC) discussed an increase in the limit at the Nov. 28 meeting.

“It’s kind of convoluted, but going east on 76, from downtown to Marina Drive, that’s the city of Blue Ridge, and then it becomes the county’s responsibility from Marina Drive out to the Lakewood intersection where Hwy. 60 comes in,” Fannin County BOC Chairman Stan Helton clarified as to which entities are accountable for maintenance and regulations along Old Hwy. 76.

Board of Commissioners, County Chairman, Post One Commissioner, Post Two Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, TVA, dam, Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Public Works Director, Zach Ratcliff, Lakewood, Marina, Old Hwy 76, speed limit, Union County, Hwy 60

L-R : Marina Drive on Old Hwy. 76; Lakewood and Old Hwy. 76 intersection

Helton went on to say, “And then that’s state responsibility from Lakewood intersection all the way out to where 60 (state Route 60) turns south on Morganton headed towards Suches. And then from that point going on east towards Union County, that’s the county’s responsibility again.”

From Union County to the Lakewood intersection, the highway has a constant speed limit of 45 mph. From the Lakewood intersection to Marina Drive, the speed limit drops to 35 mph.

The change in speed limit will not affect the current speed limit at Blue Ridge Dam and along Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) property. The speed limit will still remain at 35 mph in that area.

After receiving calls from various citizens wanting to raise the speed limit in this area, Helton brought the issue to the attention of the board. Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson and Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee agreed that bringing uniformity to the speed limit would be a positive.

Board of Commissioners, County Chairman, Post One Commissioner, Post Two Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, TVA, dam, Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Public Works Director, Zach Ratcliff, Lakewood, Marina, Old Hwy 76, speed limit, Union County, Hwy 60

Area along TVA property, including Blue Ridge Dam, will remain at 35 mph.

Johnson deferred to Fannin County Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff to get his opinion on the proposed change.

Ratcliff pointed out that the current speed limit causes a bottleneck on that section of road and added, “I recommend that we at least do something to improve that area. I think it would help. That’s pretty slow going across there if you abide by that speed limit.”

Johnson agreed, “It does kind of bottleneck down there. There are still some law-abiding citizens left and that is too slow.”

Sosebee asked Ratcliff if the change would alleviate that issue, to which Ratcliff replied, “It used to be that (45 mph). It actually used to be that. TVA did work on the dam, and they reduced all the speed through there because they were doing the work, and it never got bumped back up.”

BOC Chairman Helton made a motion to raise the speed limit from Marina Drive to the Lakewood intersection (excluding the dam and the area along TVA property) to 45 mph. Johnson seconded the motion, and it was passed unanimously by all three commissioners.

 

 

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

Fannin Assessors address potential budget cut for 2018

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Assessors held a special called meeting Monday, Nov. 27, to discuss the department’s projected budget for 2018.

Chairman Lane Bishop opened the meeting by telling the board, “I wish that we were not even having this meeting.” Bishop continued to inform the other members that, to his understanding, the Board of Commissioners had reduced next year’s projected assessors’ budget “a considerable amount” in comparison to the requested 2018 budget.

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran presented the board with information comparing the assessors requested amount and the commissioners recommended amount. According to Cochran, the total requested budget for 2018 was $864,900 while the commissioners recommended amount reduced the pending budget by $126,045. Cochran explained the most significant projected reductions include a $40,005 cut in salaries, a $21,000 cut in education and training, a $27,500 cut in operation supplies and a $25,000 cut in capital outlay equipment.

Board members along with Cochran were concerned about the cut in education and training. Cochran stressed the importance of continuing the education of field appraisers in order to stay in accordance with Georgia Department of Revenue guidelines and avoid another future consent order and fines from the state.

“So that’s going to be cutting the appraisers back to where they can’t actually do what we’ve been requested of by the Department of Revenue through our performance review,” Cochran told board members. “It’s not going to be like we’ve been doing and trying to stay up (to date) on the new laws and sending each person to school once a year.”

Concerning the potential cut in operation supplies, Cochran explained County Finance Director Robin Gazaway had previously asked Cochran to move an $18,000 amount from the capital outlay line item to operation supplies for audit compliance. Cochran questioned the commissioners’ knowledge of the $18,000 line item shift given their recommended amount of $24,500 for operation supplies.

The chief appraiser also mentioned the department requested $40,000 for capital outlay equipment, which included $22,000 for the purchase of a used vehicle to add to the tax assessors’ fleet and $18,000 for revaluation of 12,000 rural land parcels, which would be contracted out to a private company. The commissioners recommended amount for the capital outlay line item is $15,000.

Bishop also pointed out the assessors office still has to appraise over 10,000 parcels throughout the county despite the fact that the consent order the department had been under from the state Department of Revenue had been recently lifted. Of these 10,000 parcels yet to be appraised, Board Member Troy Junnier later explained the appraisal updates would add to the tax digest for the county and potentially add further revenue.

“And we’ve been trying to get a vehicle out of the Board (of Commissioners) for two years, and we haven’t been able to get one yet,” Bishop stated.

Regarding the previous consent order, Board Member Mark Henson asked Cochran, “One of the reasons we were under the consent order was because of the ratio and uniformity. Was that because this office was underfunded in the past?” To this, Cochran affirmed that was true.

“And yet it cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars (in fines and fees from the state),” Henson added.

After 45 minutes of discussion, the board all agreed they needed to talk, in some form, to the BOC, or at least Chairman Stan Helton, to provide further information concerning department needs and then asked Cochran to see if Helton was available to speak with the Board of Assessors in the meeting. Helton joined the board members a few minutes later.

Helton then fielded questions and comments from Cochran and the board. “If we don’t have what this office needs to function on a daily basis, we might get by with it next year, but the following year or possibly the next one you’re going to get hit with a (large) fine again and the state will not back off because we’ve already been warned,”Junnier told Helton, referring to the potential of another consent order and further fines from the Department of Revenue.

The commission chairman responded by notifying Junnier that expenditures to date for 2017 have been under budget so far. When asked about the possibility of purchasing another vehicle to add to the fleet or replace aging vehicles, Helton explained the BOC would have to approve such an expenditure. He also stated the current fleet of vehicles had not been thoroughly inspected as of yet to completely determine whether or not any of the vehicles needed to be replaced.

After Bishop pointed out the 10,000 parcels still needing to be reappraised by the department, Helton responded by saying, “(The BOC has) looked at this budget very closely, and when you look at what you’ve actually spent for this year, I don’t think what’s been recommended is out of line at all.”

Helton also explained the Board of Assessors could address the full BOC at the Tuesday, Nov. 28, budget public hearing before the regularly scheduled commissioners meeting or at the Dec. 12 BOC meeting where the 2018 county budget is expected to be approved. The assessors agreed they would prefer to speak to the commissioners, as well as Finance Director Gazaway, individually sometime in the next two weeks rather than at a public hearing.

Later, the commission chairman stated the county budget has seen a 30 percent overall increase since 2015. “And there was no tax increase,” Helton continued. “This is a painful process for everybody … That kind of spending is unsustainable, and (the BOC has) to address that this year to try to slow that down … I’m very concerned with where we’re headed with these expenses. So, if you feel like you’re being picked on – I’m sorry about that – there are a lot of people right now (in other departments) that feel that way.”

The meeting ended with the Board of Assessors agreeing to have two members and Cochran to meet individually again with Helton as well as Gazaway and also with Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson and Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee later this week or early next week.

 

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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Fannin County Board of Commissioners will hold public hearing on 2018 proposed budget

Community, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Commissioners are set to adopt the 2018 Fannin County Budget at their first regularly scheduled meeting in December.

This meeting will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, at 5:15 p.m. at 400 West Main Street, Blue Ridge, Georgia, in the Jury Assembly Room of the courthouse on the third floor.

Commissioners held an all-day budget workshop earlier this year on Wednesday, Sept. 20, in preparation for the 2018 budget.

The workshop was scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and was open to the public. Department heads from each department came in to discuss their area’s proposed budget.

Commissioners scrutinized each line item while the department’s representatives were present. They questioned what each department planned to do with the money for which they were asking.

The latest proposed budget for Fannin County is as follows:

FetchYourNews, Fannin County, Georgia, Proposed Budget, 2018, Board of Commissioners

 

There will be a public hearing to discuss the proposed 2018 Budget prior to its adoption in December. Anyone wishing to attend this public hearing should meet in the Jury Assembly Room at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 28. The regularly scheduled Board of Commissioners meeting will follow.

 

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

Animal activists speak at Board of Commissioners meeting

Citizens Speak, Community

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Animal activists and concerned citizens had their voices heard at the Nov. 14 Board of Commissioners meeting.

After a viral post on Facebook concerning two at-large German Shepherds ended in the dogs being falsely claimed at Fannin County Animal Control (FCAC), concerns over FCAC policy and procedure became a topic of discussion in the community.

FetchYourNews, Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Animal Control

German Shepherds found at the Blue Ridge Post Office.

Commissioners were met with several residents ready to voice their concerns over animal control and over allegations made that Commission Chairman Stan Helton showed indifference to the situation.

First to speak in the Public Commentary portion of the meeting was Ralph Garner of Blue Ridge. Garner began by giving a list of items that he felt Helton had positively handled but quickly shifted into the issue of animal control stating, “His oversight of the ongoing problems with animal control is just not acceptable.”

Garner went on to defend Tri State Pet Rescue’s Founder Jan Eaton over allegations that Helton had made an insulting comment to her during a phone call.  Garner said that Helton’s insult “to our area’s premier companion dog rescuer cannot be overlooked. It needs to be called out and exposed.”

Jan Eaton herself spoke out about the indifference she felt she faced when trying to discuss issues regarding animal control. Eaton had asked to be put on the agenda to have more time allotted but had been turned down.

Eaton stated, “I’m researching to see if anybody has ever been put on the agenda that’s not a county employee, because if so, that is a definite first amendment violation, in my humble opinion.”

FetchYourNews reached out to Helton regarding the public commentary. Helton stated, “I have respect for all of the citizens of Fannin County. I still stand behind our employees at animal control, but I do take the time to look into each concern individually.”

Eaton also addressed the mistakes made in following policy at FCAC when it comes to owner reclaims. She stated that the current policy only requires that proof of rabies be brought for dogs to be released.

Jangling a set of rabies tags, Eaton stated, “They come in waving rabies tags and saying that is my dog. That doesn’t mean jack squat unless you call those rabies tags in and see if they match those dogs.”

A resident of McCaysville also spoke of policy at FCAC. He proposed that animal control make it standard to take a photocopy of the driver’s license of the person claiming a dog. He stated that it would be a way, if need arose, to track down the person who picked up the animal.

Fannin County Animal Control Department Head John Drullinger has looked into ways to improve the department’s current policy. A few of his suggested changes include:

Ask the person attempting to reclaim the pet if they can provide photographic evidence of ownership.

In cases where the pet is going to be reclaimed after ownership has been verified and the rabies tag has been verified to be current:

1. Make a copy of the driver’s license of the owner.
2. Photograph the vehicle the owner is picking up the pet in, regardless if it is the pet owner’s car or not, be sure to include an angle showing the license plate or include a separate photo of the license plate.

These revisions to the policy are not finalized and are still under review.

Also stepping up to try to provide a solution is the Humane Society of Blue Ridge (HSBR). A letter was sent out on behalf of HSBR describing their concern for recent events involving FCAC and the ongoing issue of stray and lost dogs in Fannin County.

The letter offered help stating, “After discussing the situation, our board came up with the suggestion that the FCAC officers microchip the dogs that are either reclaimed from, or adopted out of, the animal control facility. This would be a good way to decrease the number of unidentifiable lost dogs in Fannin County and would assist FCAC officers in returning pets to their owners.”

The letter went on to say, “Should the county and FCAC decide to initiate such a program, the HSBR would like to work with FCAC to help support a microchipping program for dogs adopted from, and those reclaimed from, the animal control facility.”

 

 

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

Johnson on BOC: ‘We’re going down a bad road’

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – In what Fannin County Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson described as a “bad nightmare,” the county Board of Commissioners addressed the notion of increasing the chairman’s spending limit from $4,500 to $25,000 during the commissioners meeting Tuesday, Nov. 14.

Currently, BOC Chairman Stan Helton is allowed to approve county expenditures less than $4,500 himself without the approval of either Johnson or Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee. Expenditures greater than that amount require signatures from two of the three commissioners. The potential approval of the spending limit increase would have upped that amount to $25,000.

Helton cited Fannin County’s most recent audit, which listed the number of invoices needing Board approval as a “material weakness,” as a primary reason for the potential change in procedure. Helton also stated that about 400 checks this year have required Board approval. The chairman also read from the audit that “the approved purchase order policies and procedures are not being followed. Purchase orders are being obtained subsequent to the purchase.”

“In other words, we’re signing the checks after the fact,” Helton explained in his own words. In addition, he referenced surrounding counties – though no specifics were given – as other entities with higher chairman spending limits.

In follow-up interviews with both Sosebee and Johnson, neither commissioner could explain Helton’s reasoning for wanting to increase the spending limit as an effort to correct the audit deficiency. When reached for comment, Chairman Helton explained he felt a higher spending limit would increase payment efficiency and cut down 75 percent of the invoices that must be processed by commission approval. “The $4,500 spending limit creates a bottleneck of invoices that requires the county to chase down one of the other post commissioners for approval,” Helton said.

“I’ll just go ahead and tell you no,” Johnson said in the meeting after Helton asked the post commissioners for their input. “All these counties we’re comparing them to as well, the county attorneys work for the Board of Commissioners, so that’s how that kind of offsets that balance of power. If I have a problem or a question with an expenditure – if I’m in Pickens or Gilmer county – I can go to the county attorney … and I can get an answer that’s not biased. In Fannin County, our county attorney (Lynn Doss) still works for the chairman.”

Johnson later explained Pickens’ chairman spending limit is currently $25,000 and Gilmer’s limit is $50,000. He also referred to instances of former Chairman Bill Simonds overspending his limit, and when Johnson questioned Simonds’ ability to do this in the past, he said he did not receive a reasonable explanation from County Attorney Doss.

Sosebee agreed with Johnson saying, “I’m not for raising (the limit) at any level right now … Like Mr. Johnson said, this is Fannin County. We’re not in debt. Millage rate’s lower than any other county … We just went down this road (with the previous administration) and I don’t intend to walk it again.”

Sosebee also pointed out that in Helton’s campaign for the office, the current chairman advocated for controlling former Chairman Simonds’ spending limit.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson

Johnson added he was beginning to see a “pattern going in the wrong way” developing with too many “tweaks” during Helton’s administration, citing specifically the post commissioners’ commentary being taken off the agenda and Helton’s request for all comments to be addressed to him as stated on the commissioners meeting agendas.

The discussion quickly evolved into Johnson requesting moves be taken by the Board to allow Doss to represent the entire Board of Commissioners and not just the chairman. Helton explained he has encouraged Doss to communicate with the post commissioners and Doss said she had emailed both posts and had spoken with Sosebee about issues in the past.

Later, Johnson made a motion four times to take steps to amend the county’s structure to allow Doss to represent the entire Board, the first of which was seconded by Sosebee. Sosebee did not second any of Johnson’s subsequent motions after the chairman stated he had neither asked for a motion nor a second.

Helton resisted the motions calling his position the “most constitutionally weak chairman this county’s ever had” and added he was not in favor of weakening the position ever further. When the notion of evoking home rule was addressed, Johnson stated he would like to consult the county attorney on the matter but could not because she did not work for the full commission.

After Helton told the post commissioners the only motion he would entertain would be a motion to adjourn, the chairman made such a motion, but Johnson and Sosebee refused to second it. At this point, the meeting reached an impasse.

“To put this situation about changing the county attorney here on the spot like this is unacceptable,” Helton told Johnson. “Now we can sit here all night.”

Reconvening after a five-minute recess, Johnson said he wanted to make an example for everyone to see the “pickle” in which the post commissioners are put by not having the same level of legal representation from the county attorney that the chairman has.

“Everything’s about the chairman,” Johnson continued, “even our minutes. The only minutes that our clerk (Karen Jones) has recorded is what the chairman says … I do paving for a living and I don’t pave over a bad road. And we’re going down a bad road.”

Commission Chairman Stan Helton

After Helton again made a motion to adjourn, Sosebee seconded the motion under the provision that the county attorney issue be revisited at the next meeting. Helton agreed to this and the meeting adjourned.

Ultimately, no decision was made to increase the chairman’s spending limit, but Helton said he would personally examine ways to resolve the issue to comply with the standards of the audit.

Prior to this discussion, several items of business were addressed. Robert Graham, director of Fannin’s Emergency Management Agency (EMA), requested the purchase of a new ambulance for the county’s fleet. Graham informed the Board if the ambulance were ordered now, the contractor would honor the 2017 price of $124,280, which would result in savings of $4,000 to $5,000 for the county by not waiting until next year to make the purchase. Graham clarified the ambulance would be a second ordered ambulance after the county approved the purchase of a previous ambulance earlier this year. The Board unanimously approved the expenditure and Graham stated the county can expect the ambulance to be delivered by early February 2018. Also, he said the expenditure would come out of the 2018 budget.

Fire and Rescue Chief Larry Thomas requested the purchase of a used fire engine for $45,000 to replace Engine 13. Thomas said officials from the Fannin Fire Department had inspected the used engine and found it to be in “sound order.” The incoming engine will be used as a frontline engine, Thomas said, and Engine 13 would then be used as a tanker. The funds for the expenditure will come from the department’s 2017 capital outlay and the department would have a $17,000 balance remaining, according to Helton. The purchase was unanimously approved.

Also, the Board approved and instituted ACCG as the cancer insurance provider for the county’s fire department. In May, Georgia lawmakers passed House Bill 146, which mandates that fire departments provide firefighters with insurance benefits should they contract cancer while as a result of work conditions.

Several citizens spoke in public commentary concerning issues with Fannin County Animal Control and the recent incident in which two German shepherds were inadvertently turned over to an individual claiming to be the dogs’ rightful owner but was not. For a detailed account, please continue to follow FetchYourNews for the story covering the public commentary.

Public Works Director and Fannin County Water Authority (FCWA) board member Zack Ratcliff requested the purchase of a used trackhoe excavator for the Public Works department that the FCWA is selling for $42,000. Post Commissioners Sosebee and Johnson both rejected the purchase.

“I feel like we’ve got enough equipment out there right now than what we’ve got people to run it,” Sosebee told Ratcliff.

“I, for one, don’t why the Water Authority is selling it to begin with. Secondly, I don’t think we need it,” Johnson stated.

Chairman Helton gave no indication as to his thoughts on the purchase.

For the Recreation Department, the Board approved a bid of $8,735 from Praters Flooring to resurface the gymnasium floor at the Recreation Center. Recreation Director Eddie O’Neal said the project is slated to start Dec. 13 and the gymnasium will likely have to remain closed until Monday, Dec. 18.

Project Chimps, which provides a sanctuary for retired chimpanzees used in private research labs, will receive 10 additional chimpanzees after the Board approved a permit allowing for the additional group. The chimpanzees are expected to arrive at the sanctuary by Dec. 12.

From left, Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson, PruittHealth Community Relations Representative Brad Watkins, Chairman Stan Helton, PruittHealth Community Relations Representative Amy Beavers, PruittHealth Administrator Kelly Floyd, PruittHealth Administrator Dana Cole and Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee.

Representatives were present from PruittHealth of Blue Ridge for a proclamation declaring November to be Hospice and Home Health Month in Fannin County to encourage citizens to increase the awareness and importance of home health services both locally and nationally.

 

 

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