Audit shows Fannin County finances in good standing

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County 2017 audit concluded with much praise from independent accounting firm Rushton and Company. The overall state of finances for the county are “very healthy”.

Sam Latimer, CPA and audit manager with Rushton and Company, gave citizens an overview of the Fannin County 2017 audit at the June 26 Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting.

Rushton and Company was hired to analyze the county’s 2017 finances and give an unbiased opinion based on an in-depth look at all county run departments.

Latimer noted that working with the county and management had been very easy for the company, and that all county employees had been very cooperative and helpful in providing the firm with all the information they needed to conduct the audit.

“You (Fannin County) have a very capable finance department,” Latimer spoke specifically of the work done by Fannin County Finance Director Robin Gazaway.

Net assets were among the highlights given by Latimer. Net assets make up the county’s infrastructure (ex. roads and buildings), equipment, restricted funds (ex. SPLOST or Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax), and unrestricted funds (ex. funds remaining after the first two categories are filled).

During the 2017 fiscal year Fannin County net assets grew by $1.6 million, up 27 percent from 2016.

Latimer dubbed this increase a “very healthy year for the county”.

One of the largest components of Fannin County finances is the General Fund, and like the net assets, revenues to this fund showed positive growth with a 5.7 percent increase.

Nearly $1,000,000 of taxpayer funds were saved through cuts made to the budget of the Public Works department (Roads and Bridges).

“Due mostly to personal services,” Latimer said explaining where these cuts came from, “There was a large decrease in the number of employees.”

Latimer did note that the county’s insurance claims had risen by almost $1,000,000, but was not alarmed by this increase stating, “This is an area that is hard to control because your claims are based on people’s health.”

Insurance claims will fluctuate from year to year according to Latimer: “So that just happens to be up this year.”

The unassigned fund balance did decrease slightly from the previous year of 2016. The funds in this area, however, are still well above standard expectations.

According to the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) the unassigned fund balance should have enough finances available for a county to operate approximately two months if all revenues stopped.

“What that means,” Latimer spoke of the remaining balance in Fannin County’s unassigned fund, “is that if you were to close the doors today and stop receiving revenue; you could operate for almost seven months.”

“Most (counties) are probably between two and three months,” Latimer added, “You guys are definitely above what the average would be.”

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton noted that spending had slowed, but stated that the ultimate goal of the county should be to bring expenditures down enough to begin adding revenues back to the fund balance once again.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson agreed with Helton on this matter and stated of the audit, “It shows that next year we’re going to make some, as you just said, either some cuts or we’re going to have to look at other ways of revenue.”

Johnson stated that the audit is a good way to see exactly where the county stands: “This will allow all of us to make a very informed decision as to where we are going to go next year.”

At the conclusion of the presentation, when asked about the overall strength of Fannin County financially, Latimer simply replied, “Very healthy. Very good.”

The full 2017 audit , including the management report, will be available for the public to view on the Fannin County Government website.

 

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Citizens defend Tax Assessors

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – There was no shortage of comments as citizens filled the public commentary portion at the Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting to express their outrage over the recent handling of Chief Tax assessor Dawn Cochran.

After reading about the exchange between county commissioners and Cochran in local media, citizens of Fannin County spoke in defense of the Tax Assessors department.

Frank Moore of the Aska Road area was first to speak. Moore, an attorney, works on property tax appeals and has firsthand experience dealing with the Tax Assessors department and Cochran herself: “That is a very professional office.”

Appalled by the questioning of Cochran’s education by Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton, Moore expressed his opinion, “Whoever was asking that question makes me wonder where’s your MBA? Where’s their high degree of education that qualifies them to do anything?”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Tax Assessors, Chief Appraiser, Dawn Cochran, GMASS, Georgia Mass Apprassial Solutions and Services, Public Commentary, Education, Frank Moore, Lane Bishop, Sonia Smith, Sandra Daugherty, Ralph Garner, Marcella Olsteen

Fannin County citizen Frank Moore spoke of his outrage over the recent handling of Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran.

Moore also expressed concerns over recent Board of Assessors (BOA) appointment Angelina Powell.

“And who’s the person that would actually put Angelina Powell on the Board of Assessors instead of that man right there?” Moore asked motioning to former BOA Chairman Lane Bishop.

At this point Helton put a stop to Moore’s questioning stating that Moore’s actions were boarding a personal attack, “We’re not here to criticize citizens like that. That’s out of line, so let’s move forward. Criticize me if you wish.”

“If anything I’m attacking the board for making that decision,” Moore replied to Helton, “I don’t know who made that decision, but it was a foolish decision.”

Others who spoke were just as angered as Moore over the questioning of Cochran’s education.

A former board member of the BOA, Sonia Smith, asked, “It’s not that you need an education to ask a question is it?” adding, “I believe her questions were educated. She wanted an answer to her question.”

Smith also stated that the commissioners’ behavior toward an employee could be very discouraging for other personnel who might now be intimidated to ask a question.

Sandra Daugherty of Sugarcreek agreed with Smith’s perceptions of the BOC possibly making it difficult for county employees to come to them with questions.

“To be clear everyone, I’m addressing you, Mr. Helton, and you, Mr. Johnson (Post 1 Commissioner), both as a human being and as a public official, you should both be ashamed of yourselves. Not only do you owe Dawn Cochran an apology, but you owe everyone sitting here that night an apology.”

Former BOA Chairman Lane Bishop was present to defend Cochran having worked with her for several years: “Dawn Cochran doesn’t have a formal degree as you so crudely pointed out, but she does have a PhD. It’s in honesty.”

Bishop accused the BOC of having a vendetta against the Tax Assessors department. Speaking directly to Chairman Helton, Lane stated, “You’re real vendetta against the Tax Assessors office is because you can’t control it.”

Lane elaborated further, “Also the fact, the new board three years ago fired Steve Stanley, your’s (Helton) and Larry Joe Sosebee’s friend. The good ol’ boy syndrome lives in Fannin County.”

“Maybe it’s time for the voters of Fannin County to consider a recall petition on you,” Bishop concluded his time, “a class action lawsuit and call the department of revenue on all three of our commissioners.”

Blue Ridge resident Ralph Garner reasoned, “Why tarnish the legacy of good that you (BOC) are doing with ugly behavior like that? A prolonged repetitious rant is out of order most any time.”

Marcella O’Steen of Epworth approached the matter on a more personal level stating that Dawn is someone’s mother, daughter and wife. O’Steen was unable to hold back anger as she stated of the situation: “If I were her (Cochran) husband, I would kick your a**!”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Tax Assessors, Chief Appraiser, Dawn Cochran, GMASS, Georgia Mass Apprassial Solutions and Services, Public Commentary, Education, Frank Moore, Lane Bishop, Sonia Smith, Sandra Daugherty, Ralph Garner, Marcella Olsteen

Former BOA Chairman Lane Bishop accused commissioners of still using the “good ol’ boy” system.

After agreeing to discontinue the profanity, O’Steen was allowed to continue speaking. Unlike many of the other speakers who were focused solely on Helton and Fannin County Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson, O’Steen also accused Fannin County Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee of negative behavior in the meeting.

Sosebee who had previously complimented the Tax Assessors department during the June 12 meeting failed to take action making him just as guilty according to O’Steen: “Out of three men up here not one of you came to her defense.”

While people certainly expressed their outrage over the perceived treatment of Cochran, many were also displeased with the option that was presented of outsourcing some of the of the workload of the Tax Assessors office.

It was proposed at the June 12 BOC meeting to look into a contract with Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS). In this contract, GMASS offers to appraise a third of the counties parcels each year for three years. This would keep the county in compliance with Georgia state standards.

The GMASS contract would cost taxpayers a total of $784,000 for three years of service. Chairman Helton pointed out that Fannin County’s total yearly budget for the Tax Assessors department is far more than surrounding counties, and this contract could be a way to alleviate some of the financial burden on the taxpayers of the county.

Helton clarified that he was not advocating to completely replace the tax assessors department: “You always need to have some local involvement and people there.”

“What they’re (tax assessors) not telling everyone, is they already are using this company(GMASS),” Johnson said of the proposed contract.

Chief Assessor Dawn Cochran did confirm that she had planned on asking for help in 2019 with approximately 13,000 parcels.

“No one voted to do it,” Johnson said explaining the proposed contract,”I’m all about saving the taxpayers money, but we’ve got a lot of research to do.”

“I have not had to raise the mileage. I didn’t get elected to look at the tax assessors. I got elected to save taxpayers money,” Johnson concluded his feeling about the public commentary.

Helton expressed a similar view to Johnson: “Fannin County taxpayers are contributing almost $1 million a year to fund our Tax assessors office. This is the highest budget in 10 Northeast Georgia counties, including Cherokee, NC. I think the citizens have a right to expect their Chairman to ask tough questions instead of worrying about my bedside manner.”

 

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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Tax Assessors question county accounting practices

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – A misunderstanding of county accounting practices and a misuse of terminology had the Board of Commissioners (BOC) questioning whether the Board of Assessors were keeping two sets of books.

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran spoke at the June 12 Board of Commissioners meeting about a line item in the Tax Assessors budget that she felt was an error.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Tax Assessors, Board of Assessors, Chief Appraiser, Dawn Cochran, Troy Junnier, Budget, Line Item, Maps, Aerials, GMASS, Georgia Mass Appraisals and Services

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran questions to the BOC on why her numbers do not match the county’s official accounting records.

The line item in question concerns the purchase of new aerial maps for Fannin County. According to an agreement made last year, the Tax Assessors Department would pay for the mapping upfront, but other departments who would benefit from use of the maps would reimburse the county for their portion of the overall price.

“We started at $24,000,” Cochran said explaining the line item, “We paid $8,000 out to QPublic. We paid $22,000 to EagleView which is for the maps. We paid $1,000 for LiDAR (Light Detection and Radar) and that put us a balance of negative $7,000.”

Cochran stated that the revenue to date for her department was $7,508.13 and that invoices had been sent out to other departments for their share in the mapping costs for a total of $12,513.35.

“The current balance that should be in the line item for maps and aerials is $13,021.68,” Cochran concluded.

Cochran approached the BOC because the department still has expenditures for the year that would need to come from that line item and worried that already showing a negative balance would reflect badly on continued spending.

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton explained that crediting back revenue to a department is not how the county’s accounting practices work. Helton stated that the way the county keeps records of its expenditures and revenues is set by the county’s auditors, Rushton and Associates.

According to Helton, revenues from any department are put back into the county’s general fund. He cited the Tax Commissioners office as an example of why this is the practice. Helton stated that if revenues were credited back to a department, such as the Tax Commissioners, it would in a sense give the department unlimited spending abilities.

“They tell us that you don’t offset expenses with revenue,” Helton said explaining the auditors recommendations. “You just don’t do that.”

Helton went further to ask if Cochran had ever invited Fannin County’s Chief Financial Officer Robin Gazaway to a Board of Assessor’s meeting to explain this practice. Cochran replied that she had not, but that she had been in contact with Gazaway via email and that all board members were copied to the exchange.

Cochran did not back down from her claim saying that it is important to keep accurate numbers from the top down, adding “Our number’s don’t match up with Ms. Gazaway’s numbers.”

Helton questioned Cochran’s accounting background and why she felt that her knowledge was correct over the county’s hired CFO.

Cochran stated that her board was upset over this “false negative” and stated, “It’s really hard to try to keep two sets of books.”

This statement immediately caught the attention of the commissioners with Helton asking Cochran to clarify and if she had made both sets of books available to the county’s CFO Gazaway.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Tax Assessors, Board of Assessors, Chief Appraiser, Dawn Cochran, Troy Junnier, Budget, Line Item, Maps, Aerials, GMASS, Georgia Mass Appraisals and Services

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson would like to see clearer lines of communication be established between departments and the Board of Commissioners.

Cochran replied that she does keep two sets of books and had made them available. Gazaway, however, stated that she had never seen the second set of books.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson questioned, “Your board is upset. Which set of books are they upset over?”

Later, Board of Assessors board member Troy Junnier would clarify Cochran’s statements, “Dawn brings up a spreadsheet. It’s not a separate set of books or anything like that.”

Junnier also stood behind Cochran’s questioning, “It looks bad on our department because we’re showing a negative line item when we’re really not.”

Helton explained that the negative line item would be amended at the end of the year budget review and that all of this could have been explained by Gazaway at one of the Board of Assessors meetings had she been invited to a meeting to discuss.

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee pointed out that the BOC is more concerned with a department’s overall budget, “You’re concerned over a line item and your overall budget is right where it should be.”

“I understand why,” Johnson expanded on government accounting,”and if we all three (commissioners) understand why, you don’t have a problem because at the end of the year, as was said earlier, we’re going to vote to amend the budget, if you are over budget.”

Johnson added that there needs to more face to face interaction with the BOC and the departments when issues arise. Johnson’s reasoning is that interacting face to face and in public meetings would help to eliminate miscommunication and misinformation being spread through media outlets.

“Stop the emailing. If there is a problem come to a meeting. If there is a problem, handle it at your meetings,” Johnson said to Cochran expressing his frustration with the current lines of communication. “I for one am sick of friction between the Board of Assessors and the Board of Commissioners. I’m tired of reading stuff in the papers before you even come here.”

“Before your accuse the county and the Board of Commissioners of essentially not knowing what they’re doing, you might ought to come here first,” Johnson added.

Cochran replied to Johnson saying, “I can’t help how the media takes things and what they do with it.”

“It seems like there is an effort to discredit this board and our CFO,” Helton expressed his feelings on the matter. “It needs to stop. We are doing things accurately.”

Junnier replied to the BOC, “We didn’t come to try to make it seem like we were trying to discredit anybody.”

“I was concerned that it (negative line item) would come back not only just the department head or the department itself, but also on the assessors board,” Junnier added.

In the end Junnier thanked the BOC for fully explaining the accounting practices of the county, and for addressing the negative line item in the Board of Assessor’s budget.

After Junnier and Cochran took their seats, Chairman Helton spoke with the commissioners about a possible way to lower the budget of the Tax Assessors department.

“You know I’ve expressed a concern for sometime about our budget in our Tax Assessors department,” Helton said proposing an alternative way to structure the department, “and I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at the other counties. There’s some counties out there and their budget is just a fraction of ours.”

Helton presented the board with a 3 year contract proposed by independent appraisal company Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS). In this contract, GMASS offers to appraise a third of the counties parcels each year for three years.

The cost of this outsourcing would be approximately $223,000 for the first two years and $338,000 for the final year. The total of this proposal would be $784,000 over three years.

Johnson pointed out that the total in the proposal for three years of service is less than the current budget of the Tax Assessors department for a single year.

“I’m for anything that saves money,” Johnson said addressing the current money being spent by the county in this area. ” I know I asked two or three years ago if our money would ever come back down and I was told no. After we came back into compliance, that it would never go back down.”

Helton clarified that he was not advocating to completely replace the tax assessors department: “You always need to have some local involvement and people there.”

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran did confirm that her department already outsources rural parcels and had planned on asking for help with approximately 13,000 parcels, a little under half the county’s total parcels, in 2019.

The BOC agreed to look over the possibility of outsourcing appraisals and would address their findings and concerns at a later date.

 

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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Board of Commissioners discuss tiny house ordinance

Community, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – “This is something that is becoming a little more prevalent in our surrounding areas,” Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton explained of the need to discuss tiny homes, “and I’ve talked to other commissioners about this and it’s a big difference whether you have zoning in the county or don’t, which we don’t.”

At the April 10 Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting, the commissioners looked into setting up guidelines in Fannin County for the growing trend of tiny homes.

The typical small or tiny house is between 100 and 400 square feet. The building of these structures could pose problems for the county.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Finance Director, Robin Gazaway, Fire Station, E-911, Funding, SPLOST, special-purpose local-option sales tax, Hotel Motel Tax, Chief Land Development Officer, Marie Woody, Condemnation, Ada Street, Purchase Cards, Tiny Homes, Ordinance, Moratorium

An example of a finished tiny home.

“It could affect people’s property values, adjacent property values, and that’s something that would concern me quite a bit,” Helton said, describing one of the issues that he foresees as a possibility in the future.

This discussion came about after a proposed subdivision plat for tiny homes was recently submitted to the county. Chief Land Development Officer Marie Woody presented the board with a sample ordinance to review pertaining to these structures.

“I personally think this is something that we are really going to have to pay close attention to,” Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson agreed with the concern.

Johnson suggested that the county come up with a pre-approval process for those seeking to build tiny home developments.

Discussion was made over whether there should be a minimum square footage requirement or a limit to the amount of structures on a property.

Helton also pointed out that other counties were having issues with developers using these tiny homes as rental properties.

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee added about the matters faced, “Gilmer and Pickens counties are really addressing this pretty strong.”

Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss suggested that the board move to place a short-term moratorium, lasting 6 months to a year, on tiny home developments, stating that this would give the county time to thoroughly research and address the issue with a proper ordinance.

Doss and the board agreed that if a moratorium were placed that it would not affect the current submitted tiny house development proposal.

The BOC agreed to table this agenda item for two weeks.

“In the meantime, perhaps you would do some more research on surrounding counties to find out a little more about the issues,” Helton addressed Woody and then addressed fellow board members, “and then at that time if you gentlemen felt like we needed to put a moratorium out there for some future date, we can decide that in a couple of weeks.”

Johnson added that he would like to see the research focused on counties similar to ours with no zoning.

Woody also presented the board with a property in the county that she felt met the requirements for condemnation. This property, located on Ada Street, was the site of a house fire earlier this year.

“No effort has been made to fix or repair it,” Woody stated of the burned structure.

There are a total of 11 acres that would need to be cleared from this location. On these 11 acres are three homes, seven mobile homes, one garage, one carport, and three additional structures that are full of items. The land surrounding these buildings is also filled with various items.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Finance Director, Robin Gazaway, Fire Station, E-911, Funding, SPLOST, special-purpose local-option sales tax, Hotel Motel Tax, Chief Land Development Officer, Marie Woody, Condemnation, Ada Street, Purchase Cards, Tiny Homes, Ordinance, Moratorium

Fire fighters battling the blaze that took place at the Ada Street property in January.

Woody reported that the county had received six complaints just in the past two weeks regarding this property and that this has been an ongoing issue, with talks between the county and the property owners, for five years.

“I get calls basically pleading with us to do something about this,” Helton said, confirming Woody’s account of complaints.

If the county were to pay to have the property cleared, a lien would then be placed on the land, which the owners would have to repay.

“We’re not taking someone’s property,” Johnson clarified the process.

Sosebee agreed that after five years “time’s run out.”

The board unanimously decided to declare the property dilapidated, a public safety nuisance, and for it to be condemned.

Fannin County Finance Director Robin Gazaway presented the BOC with a finalized plan for payment of the new fire station and E-911 center located on Windy Ridge Road.

The board agreed to advance monies from the county’s general fund, as well as cash in two county CDs (certificate of deposit).

These advanced funds will be paid back over a 27-month period using funds from both SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) and the newly allocated 10 percent from Hotel/Motel Taxes.

Gazaway also spoke with the board about switching the county over from a single credit card to purchase cards.

Currently, the county has one credit card, which department heads must come to the courthouse and check out to use.

Gazaway stated that a couple of issues have risen from using the one-card method. Using the one card, the limit for that card is often met before the next billing cycle causing the card to become inactive.

Gazaway also stated that some department heads will forget to turn in receipts, causing confusion when the bill arrives, and a need to track down missing receipts.

“Several of the counties have a purchase card instead of a credit card,” Gazaway explained.

Gazaway presented the board with two options for purchase cards, one from J.P. Morgan and the other from East West Bank, and stated that no local banks offer this option.

If the board chose to switch to purchase cards, the county could decide which department heads would be issued a card and the limit for each card.

Department heads would have to report all spending to the bank and turn in all physical receipts to the county. Gazaway pointed out that with each department head having individual reporting, missing receipts would be easier to track.

Both Sosebee and Johnson expressed concern over extra cards being issued.

“I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with it, but whatever department head can’t even turn in their receipts, they’re not responsible to begin with,” Johnson expressed of the concern over the issuing of extra cards. “I surely don’t want them to have a credit card.”

The BOC agreed to table this item for two weeks and to discuss it at the next monthly meeting to be held April 24 at 5:15 p.m. on the third floor of the courthouse.

 

 

 

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Fannin County fire station gets approved financing

Community, Fannin County EMA/EMS, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – After several discussions the Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) approved a plan for the county to finish funding the new fire station and E-911 center located on Windy Ridge Road.

The BOC, under former county Chairman Bill Simmonds, had agreed to a budget of $2.5 million to complete this project, but bids came in higher than projected.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Finance Director, Robin Gazaway, Fire Station, E-911, Funding, SPLOST, special-purpose local-option sales tax, Hotel Motel Tax

Construction continues at the site of the county’s new fire station and E-911 center

Helton explained at the Feb. 27 BOC meeting the need for financing the remaining balance of the project, “We really didn’t know until we got the bids last year, there were two of them, and we didn’t open those bids, I believe, until the last meeting in May, and the low bid with all the factors in there was 3 million dollars. Almost exactly that number.”

“It’s not that we spent more money. We just did a contract that was a little bit more money than they had originally estimated it was going to cost,” Fannin County Finance Director Robin Gazaway further clarified.

Discussions at the Feb. meeting brought up the possibility of borrowing the needed funds through a bond company, to which Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson firmly stated that he was against this option.

Looking into other avenues to pursue for the funding, Gazaway presented the BOC with the possibility of borrowing funds from the county’s general fund and using county CDs (Certificate of Deposit).

This option would allow the county to essentially have an interest free advance. By going this route, Gazaway explained that it would save the county roughly $100,000 in interest and an additional $30,000 in fees.

At the April 10 BOC meeting the board approved this option for financing with a plan on how and when the county would reimburse the general fund.

To finance the remaining balance of the project the county will cash in two CDs, one for $445,000 and another for $75,000, and also borrow approximately $650,000 from the General Fund.

“We’re looking at over one million,” Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee clarified the total amount needed for the project’s completion.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Finance Director, Robin Gazaway, Fire Station, E-911, Funding, SPLOST, special-purpose local-option sales tax, Hotel Motel Tax

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee discusses funding options.

Gazaway explained cashing in the county’s CDs, “We’re not paying those back, we’re just going to use those, and then the rest of the money ($650,000) is to be advanced.”

To pay back the $650,000 borrowed from the general fund the BOC decided to make the monthly payments by taking half of the payment amount from SPLOST (special-purpose local-option sales tax) and the other half from an extra 10 percent portion of the county’s Hotel/Motel Tax allocated directly to the county this year.

Approximated repayment of the advance would take the county 27 months.

Johnson thought this would be this best plan of action on paying the advance back, stating of pulling from two funds, “I don’t think we need to exhaust either one of these funds in my opinion.”

“This is one of the things I talked about with the Hotel/Motel Tax,” Johnson, a long time proponent of transparency in regards to the spending of these funds, stated, “it’s something that each and every person can go and touch that building and know where it went.”

“I think this is good example of something to use it on,” Johnson added.

Helton agreed with his fellow commissioner: “I think this is about the most appropriate use that we could use for these additional funds.”

Helton motioned to accept an advance from the county for this project, with the stipulations that it would be repaid in 27 months using funds from SPLOST and the Hotel/Motel Tax. Johnson seconded the motions and the board approved this move unanimously.

 

 

 

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 new hires will have a new retirement plan

Community, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) voted to update the county’s retirement plan at the March 27 meeting.

The current county retirement plan is one in which the county funds 100 percent. The plan is managed by ACCG Insurance and is based on stock market projections.

According to county Chairman Stan Helton, if the stock market does not perform well, the county must use more money to fulfill obligations required by the plan.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson expressed an opinion shared by fellow board members about the county’s current plan: “I feel like it’s unsustainable for our county to continue to do that.”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Comissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Finance Director, Robin Gazaway, Fire Station, E-911, Windy Ridge Road, Loan, Bonds, Retirement Plan, ACCG Insurance, 401A Defined Contribution Plan, Public Works Director, Zack Ratcliff, Road Work, Resurfacing, Snake Nation, Ridge Road, North Old Aska, Harrison & Ada, Old Loving Road, Mabry Lane, Wise Road, Wright Mill Road, Elrod, Blue Bird, Aster Lane, Old Chapel Road, Queen Avenue off of Galloway, Old Dial Road, Mobile Circle, Lowery Road/Brown Mill Road, Mount Herman Road, Hilltop Circle, Doublehead Gap Road, Cypress Lane, Old Skennah Gap Road, Devils Den, Budget 2018, Tax Assessors

BOC discusses and fine tunes new retirement plan.

The new plan is a 401A Defined Contribution Plan and works much like a 401K. County employees would be required to enroll in the plan and make contributions. The county itself would then match employee contributions up to a maximum percentage.

“We don’t intend to do anything that affects currently retired Fannin County employees,” Helton stressed during the discussion. “We also won’t do anything that is going to affect current county employees.”

The newly discussed retirement plan will only apply to new hires of the county. Those employees who have already enrolled in the county’s current retirement plan and employees who have already retired will not see any change to their benefits.

Helton feels that the effects of adopting a new retirement plan will not be seen immediately but will help to secure funds for those on the current plan and those who have already retired: “For a future board, we feel that it is going to be best if we take that liability, which has run anywhere from $700,000 to $800,000 a year, to fund that program.”

Johnson explained about the county’s current retirement plan, “There’s a reason these are going away. They’re not sustainable.”

Johnson looked over several angles before deciding to support the new plan. A main focus for him was whether or not a fully funded plan was a valuable recruiting tool to get top employees for the county.

After having given this idea much thought, Johnson concluded, “I thought that angle over and I just don’t think it’s a feasible, legitimate way of recruiting people.”

Johnson motioned to accept the retirement plan for new hires of the county, and Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee made a second. The BOC approved unanimously to move forward with the new plan.

The new county retirement plan will be effective July 1, 2018. New employees will be eligible to enroll six months after their hire date. There is no limit as to what an employee can put into the fund, and the county will match up to 4 percent of employees’ contributions.

Employees may withdraw their portion of funds contributed at any time. The county has the option to change percentage matched on an annual basis.

Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff was present at the meeting and presented the BOC with a current list of roads scheduled to have maintenance and be resurfaced in 2018.

Ratcliff reported that 12 roads were completed and three roads were omitted from the 2017 list.

Helton clarified that in 2018 “there are 10 new roads” that are scheduled to see work.

Previously, road work was scheduled by priority, but Ratcliff took a new approach and explained, “Those are in geographically, kind of, order because we don’t want to be taking this spreader and running from one end of the county to the other.”

By dividing the work into quadrants, the county will save time and money in completing projects.

Sosebee spoke of the new work plan, “I think it’s a wise choice.”

This year, the county also took into account which roads were on school routes.

“One road we had was a real safety issue for the school as well as us,” Helton said, describing this new consideration.

The following roads will have portions scheduled for maintenance:

Snake Nation, Ridge Road, North Old Aska, Harrison & Ada, Old Loving Road, Mabry Lane, Wise Road, Wright Mill Road, Elrod, Blue Bird, Aster Lane, Old Chapel Road, Queen Avenue off of Galloway, Old Dial Road, Mobile Circle, Lowery Road/Brown Mill Road, Mount Herman Road, Hilltop Circle, Doublehead Gap Road, Cypress Lane, Old Skennah Gap Road, Devils Den.

Ratcliff also asked the board to replace a Kubota tractor mower that has been deemed unusable. The new tractor, a Massey Ferguson, would come from Mason Tractor and is on a state contract, which gives the county a 6 percent discount.

The price tag for the new equipment is $22,710, which the board unanimously agreed to fund.

While present, Ratcliff sought permission from the BOC to approve surplus equipment to be sold online, which the board agreed to do. To date, county equipment sold online has brought in a revenue of $84,872.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Comissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Finance Director, Robin Gazaway, Fire Station, E-911, Windy Ridge Road, Loan, Bonds, Retirement Plan, ACCG Insurance, 401A Defined Contribution Plan, Public Works Director, Zack Ratcliff, Road Work, Resurfacing, Snake Nation, Ridge Road, North Old Aska, Harrison & Ada, Old Loving Road, Mabry Lane, Wise Road, Wright Mill Road, Elrod, Blue Bird, Aster Lane, Old Chapel Road, Queen Avenue off of Galloway, Old Dial Road, Mobile Circle, Lowery Road/Brown Mill Road, Mount Herman Road, Hilltop Circle, Doublehead Gap Road, Cypress Lane, Old Skennah Gap Road, Devils Den, Budget 2018, Tax Assessors

Points of Interest for the 2018 Budget.

Fannin County Finance Director Robin Gazaway presented the board with the latest county budget reports through the month of February.
This report shows that the county is currently $1,397,958 under budget.

“Everybody is under budget except for the tax assessors,” Gazaway explained of the report, “but most of that is the approval of the new vehicles that were received.”

Of the departments, Sosebee commented, “They are watching the budget real well.”

Johnson, also satisfied with the report, said that it is a positive sign that the departments are being frugal with their budgets.

“I would like to thank them for being frugal with the money rather than the opposite and seeing things strained,” Johnson added. “It shows good budgeting process.”

Discussions of funding the remaining balance of the new fire station and E-911 facility were also brought up, with Gazaway presenting the option of the county borrowing money from itself and eliminating having to pay interest and fees through a standard loan.

The commissioners agreed that borrowing money from the county’s general fund was the best option, but tabled the final approval for two weeks so that research can be done on how and when the county will be able to make repayment.

 

 

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 County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Comissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Finance Director, Robin Gazaway, Fire Station, E-911, Windy Ridge Road, Loan, Bonds, Retirement Plan, ACCG Insurance, 401A Defined Contribution Plan, Public Works Director, Zack Ratcliff, Road Work, Resurfacing, Snake Nation, Ridge Road, North Old Aska, Harrison & Ada, Old Loving Road, Mabry Lane, Wise Road, Wright Mill Road, Elrod, Blue Bird, Aster Lane, Old Chapel Road, Queen Avenue off of Galloway, Old Dial Road, Mobile Circle, Lowery Road/Brown Mill Road, Mount Herman Road, Hilltop Circle, Doublehead Gap Road, Cypress Lane, Old Skennah Gap Road, Devils Den, Budget 2018, Tax Assessors

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Board of Commissioners agree on new option for fire station funding

Fannin County EMA/EMS, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Fannin County Finance Director Robin Gazaway presented the Board of Commissioners (BOC) with a new option for financing the remaining balance of the new Fire Station One and E-911 center being constructed on Windy Ridge Road.

At the Feb. 27 BOC meeting, discussion was brought up about how to finance the remaining balance to construct this new facility.

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

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Comissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Finance Director, Robin Gazaway, Fire Station, E-911, Windy Ridge Road, Loan, Bonds

Construction continues at site of new Fannin County fire station and E-911 center.

The BOC, under former county commission Chairman Bill Simonds, had agreed to a budget of $2.5 million to complete this project, but bids came in higher than projected.

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton explained, “We really didn’t know until we got the bids last year, there were two of them, and we didn’t open those bids, I believe, until the last meeting in May, and the low bid with all the factors in there was $3 million. Almost exactly that number.”

“It’s not that we spent more money. We just did a contract that was a little bit more money than they had originally estimated it was going to cost,” Gazaway further clarified.

At the February BOC meeting, Gazaway revealed that she had been looking into possible ways to finance the difference between the approved amount and the contract and told commissioners that she had been in contact with bond companies for possible loan information.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson made it very clear that for him this was not an option: ““I’m not in favor of getting a bond.”

After more research, Gazaway presented the BOC at the March 27 meeting with an interest-free loan option. This option would essentially allow the county to borrow money from itself via the general fund.

“Legally, the auditors have approved this,” Helton said of the new loan option.

To complete the project, the county would need to borrow approximately $650,000 from the general fund. By going this route, Gazaway explained that it would save the county roughly $100,000 in interest and an additional $30,000 in fees.

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee pointed out that the need to come up with the extra funding is more urgent since the completion date of the project is expected to be June of this year, and the initial completion date was scheduled for September or October.

“This is far and above the best option we have to finish the station,” Helton shared his thoughts with the board.

“I think the only way to do it is interest-free,” Johnson agreed, “and we are using the county’s money to build a county facility while maintaining our fund balance.”

Johnson stressed that paying back the loan and balancing county funds would need to be a priority in this transaction.

All three commissioners expressed favor for pursuing this option but tabled the item for an additional two weeks to allow more research to be done on ways in which the loan will be repaid.

 

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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Additional grant pursued for Horseshoe Bend Park

Community, News

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

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

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

A view of the Toccoa River from Horseshoe Bend Park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epworth resident Noah Sims expresses concerns over courthouse security.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

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