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.

 

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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City of Blue Ridge spending comes into question

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – A large bill for the Blue Ridge City Pool and a final amendment to the City of Blue Ridge 2017 budget left new council members questioning the accountability and practices of the city when it comes to spending.

At the June Blue Ridge City Council meeting funds and lack thereof was a topic that was revisited throughout the evening. Blue Ridge Business Association President Cesar Martinez urged the council to take steps to acquire the funding needed for city improvements.

“You were all aware of the important issues facing the city, as you voiced your convictions towards better infrastructure, better parking solutions, and better bathroom facilities for our city and its visitors,” Martinez addressed the council reading from a prepared statement.

“Six months down the road and where are we?” Martinez questioned. “This city needs solutions now. Inaction is unacceptable.”

Martinez acknowledged shortfalls in trying to seek funding for these projects stating that grants could take months even years to come through.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge City Council, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Nathan Fitts, Kenneth Gaddis, Rhonda Haight, Harold Herndon, Robbie Cornelius, Blue Ridge Business Association, President, Cesar Martinez, Recreonics Inc, Spending, Budget, SPLOST, pool, paint, Downtown Development Authority

Blue Ridge Business Association President Cesar Martinez addresses the council about forming a Downtown Development Authority to help seek funding for the city.

Mayor Donna Whitener added to this that grants often have to be matched by city money.

Offering a possible solution to the lack of funding Martinez urged the council to established a Downtown Development Authority (DDA). Through a DDA the possibility of more funding opens up, funding which the city itself is ineligible to apply for.

Martinez cited that there are already 470 registered DDAs in the state of Georgia, and that the city is missing out on opportunities by not establishing a DDA of their own.

Council member Kenneth Gaddis thanked Martinez for addressing the council and questioned the city’s lack of focus on infrastructure.

“We’ve actually done about $800,000 in infrastructure this year,” Whitener responded to Gaddis, “$500,000 in one area and another 300 and something thousand.”

“We’re always spending money on infrastructure. We can’t keep up,” Whitener added.

Council member Nathan Fitts stated about funding issues, “A lot of what we were told as far as funding didn’t come through.”

Later an amendment to the city’s 2017 budget revealed that the previous council had already spent a large portion of projected revenue for 2018.

The previous council had approved for many of the city streets to be repaved in 2017, but the funding was not budgeted. To acquire the funds necessary the council then approved borrowing from the general fund and the Hotel/Motel tax account.

The general fund has now been paid back through the use of 2018 SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) collections, and the money borrowed from the Hotel/Motel account, in the amount of approximately $135,000, will not be reimbursed.

Gaddis showed surprise at this revelation: “So the previous council voted to use-”

“General fund money into your year,” Whitener quickly responded, “Into your term.”

Whitener went on to explain, “When I say we don’t have a lot of SPLOST money it’s because we’ve been paying SPLOST back from last term.”

With this revelation and the lack of funding for city projects, such as infrastructure and parking, Council member Nathan Fitts expressed his detestation when asked to approve a check in the amount of $9,608.04 for paint for the city’s pool.

According to Whitener the specialized paint is very costly, some of it being up to $263.00 for five gallons.

This invoice from Recreonics Inc. coupled with approximately $5,000 already spent on parts to fix the pool, brings the total amount well over the original $5,000 approved by the council earlier this year.

“So now we’ve spent triple,” Fitts said about the new invoice, “Did we get estimates on what paint was going to be before we bought it?”

Gaddis backed Fitts and questioned how the department got approval to spend this amount.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge City Council, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Nathan Fitts, Kenneth Gaddis, Rhonda Haight, Harold Herndon, Robbie Cornelius, Blue Ridge Business Association, President, Cesar Martinez, Recreonics Inc, Spending, Budget, SPLOST, pool, paint, Downtown Development Authority

Costly paint for the city pool led council to question if estimates were given before purchase.

Whitener simply answered, “They didn’t.”

“I think these department heads need to submit these estimates and bids ahead of time for approval,” Fitts went on.

Whitener, who agreed with this sentiment, stated of the department head, “I don’t think she realized how much paint it would take to paint the pool.”

“That’s why we get estimates,” Fitts replied explaining that there is no excuse. “That is unacceptable.”

Since the pool had already been painted the council had no choice but to approve to pay this debt.

“I don’t think we should have painted it period, but its been painted,” Whitener expressed her opinion.

Fitts added, “I think we should tell that department head, they better get out there and start marketing that pool to bring more revenue in.”

The Blue Ridge City Council will hold their next regular monthly meeting on Tue. July 10 at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

 

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.

 

 

 

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 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 EMA continues to prepare for future demand

Fannin County EMA/EMS, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) continues to grow with demand and make updates to systems to keep the residents of Fannin County safe.

The latest updates come after the recent approval by the Board of Commissioners (BOC) to purchase a GPS locating system for 911 calls coming into Fannin County’s E-911 center.

EMA Director Robert Graham was present at the Feb. 27 BOC meeting to provide the commissioners and the public with the latest information regarding his department.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Finance Director Robin Gazaway, EMA, Emergency Management Agency, Robert Graham, Larry Joe Sosebee, Copper Basin Medical Center, Fannin Regional Hospital

A new ambulance arrived to Fannin County in 2017. Graham hopes this will help with increased demand.

The main topic of discussion was the progress of the new Fannin County E-911 center and fire station on Windy Ridge Road.

Graham informed the board that the structural completion of this project is about a third of the way through. After recently speaking with the contractor in charge of this undertaking, Graham said that crews are still on time to have the building complete in May or June of this year.

Commission Chairman Stan Helton also pointed out that the contractor was currently staying on budget with the project.

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee questioned Graham as to how soon the new facility would be in use once the contractor’s work is complete.

“There will be a little bit of time to coordinate the moving of the 911 equipment and phones,” Graham said, explaining the difficult nature of the situation, “to make sure we do not put anybody without 911 service.”

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson then questioned Graham as to what equipment would be moved and what equipment the county would need to purchase for the center.

Graham explained that all the electronic systems would be moved, citing the servers and phone system as examples, but that new furniture would need to be purchased.

Each dispatcher has five display monitors on their desk, and Graham explained that as the dispatcher’s equipment expands, so too does the need for a larger area. The new desks to be purchased would provide just that according to Graham and would allow room for extra equipment in the future.

These new desks are also equipped to be raised so that a dispatcher can stand while working. Dispatchers can work up to 12 hours a shift, and the new desks will allow them the ability to take a break from sitting without leaving their work area.

The new building will also have raised floors. Raised floors were a priority in the original design concept. The purpose of the raised floors is to allow infrastructure of the building to be easily accessible. This would save money in the future if need arises for upgrades or repairs.

New ambulances and fire trucks are also making their way into Fannin County. These new vehicles were approved in 2017.

One of the two ambulances approved in 2017 has already been located to Fannin County, and the other will arrive this month. The Fannin County Fire Department (FCFD) received one new fire truck in February and two additional fire trucks are expected to join the FCFD fleet in March of this year.

Blue Ridge, McCaysville, Morganton, Mineral Bluff, Fannin County, Georgia, Emergency Management Agency, EMA, E-911, Fannin County Fire Department, Fannin County Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Homeland Security Grant, Trauma Grant, Georgia Trauma Commission, SPLOST, Robert Graham, Stan Helton, Larry Joe Sosebee, Earl Johnson

One of three new fire engines slated to arrive in Fannin County in 2018.

Fire Station 1, the McCaysville Fire Station, and the Morganton Fire Station will each receive one of the new fire trucks. The trucks that the new engines will be replacing at these stations will be moved to other stations throughout the county.

“The reason we put the three trucks in those stations,” Graham described of the logistics of the new equipment, “those are three of our manned stations and they get quite a bit more use.”

Earl Johnson asked about the progress of finding a new location for the Mineral Bluff Fire Station, to which Graham replied that his department is looking but has yet to find a suitable area.

“The problem is if we don’t stay close to where that station is, it changes ISO (Insurance Service Office) ratings for some of the residents and that can affect their insurance considerably,” Graham told of the restrictions of finding a location for a new fire station in that area.

Johnson, understanding of the need to find land near to the existing station, would still like to see progress made in the search. He noted that the Mineral Bluff Fire Station should be next in line to be replaced once Fire Station 1 is complete.

After receiving a Homeland Security Grant in 2017 for the purchase of new equipment for command vehicles, Graham announced the EMA had once again been able to secure another grant.

“We did receive a trauma grant, or trauma equipment grant, for EMS through the Georgia Trauma Commission,” Graham told the board.

This grant will provide $7,500 to upgrade laptops in the county’s ambulances. This money was originally budgeted for the department through Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds but will no longer need to be taken from that account.

At the conclusion of the update, Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson asked Graham if his department had any other needs.

Graham replied, “We’re in pretty good shape.”

 

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 Education restructures for 2018

Education, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Education (BOE) began 2018 by restructuring their board. This restructuring took place publicly at their Jan. 11 meeting.

An annual restructuring is in accordance with the BOE’s charter which states: “The Board of Education shall elect by majority vote at the first regular meeting of the calendar year a chairperson and vice-chairperson.”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County Board of Education, Superintendent, Chairman, Vice Chairman, Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Bobby Bearden, Lewis DeWeese, Terry Bramlett, Chad Galloway, Steve Stanley, Heather Finely, Director of Instructional Technology, Budget, SPLOST

New Chairman of the Board of Education Lewis DeWeese.

The now former Chairman Bobby Bearden opened up the restructuring by saying, “Mr. Superintendent, I would like to recommend Mr. DeWeese as the chair.”
Bearden then made the motion for Lewis DeWeese to step in as chairman of the BOE, with board member Steve Stanley seconding the motion. The board voted unanimously for this change, with DeWeese refraining from voting.

Stanley then opened the floor to the selection of vice chairman, “Mr. Chairman, I would like to place a nomination for Mr. Chad Galloway.”

Stanley then made the motion for Chad Galloway to step in as vice chairman of the BOE, and fellow board member Terry Bramlett seconded this motion. Galloway abstained from voting, but was unanimously voted in by other members of the board.

The BOE discussed their meeting schedule and voted to keep the schedule the same for the 2018 calendar year.

“So for the public,” Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney explained, “this means that we will continue as is for this year, which is all regular meetings for the Fannin County Board of Education will be held on the second Thursday of each month.”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County Board of Education, Superintendent, Chairman, Vice Chairman, Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Bobby Bearden, Lewis DeWeese, Terry Bramlett, Chad Galloway, Steve Stanley, Heather Finely, Director of Instructional Technology, Budget, SPLOST

New Vice Chairman of the Board of Education Chad Galloway.

Gwatney added, “Monthly work sessions will be held on the Tuesday prior to each regularly scheduled board meeting at 8 a.m., and these meetings will be held here at this office in Blue Ridge. All meetings are open to the public.”

The newly arranged board then got straight to business reviewing the latest financial report for the Fannin County School System. The report showed the latest information as of Nov. 30, 2017, these numbers account for 41.66 percent of the annual 2017-2018 budget.

“Local revenues are at 22 percent ($4,037,844.60) versus 20 percent for this time last year. Total revenues are at 30 percent ($10,021,377.90) versus 29 percent this time last year, and total expenditures are currently at 40 percent ($13,589,826.95) versus 41 percent this time last year,” Gwatney pointed out.

Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds collected for November 2017 totaled $466,740.32.

“This is a healthy financial report,” Gwatney concluded.

Heather Finely, director of Instructional Technology, was present at the board meeting to present the public with the highlights of how the Fannin County School System is staying up-to-date with the ever changing world of technology.

Finely stated that she and her team are currently working on a three-year plan on how to approach technology advancements and how these advancements would best be utilized in Fannin County schools.

A major focus of this three-year plan is the use of WiFi technology in education. In a student survey conducted at the schools, 84 percent of students reported to have working Internet at their home, and 76 percent felt that they could do homework that requires Internet access. Only 11 percent of the students who responded said that they have no way to complete homework that requires Internet access.

Fannin County School System has been working to aid the students without any Internet access. Currently, five buses used by the county to transport students are equipped with WiFi capabilities.

Internet access in the schools is improving as well. “The state provides us with 750 mbs of Internet service. We purchase an additional 250 from TDS,” Finely explained of the Internet speed.

There are currently 108 WiFi access points in instructional areas throughout the schools. Finely hopes to up the number of WiFi access points in the schools, citing that the schools having cinder block walls slows the connections in some areas.

Finely aims to have tablets for every student to be able to use while in school: “We are working towards a one-to-one with Chromebooks.”

There are 1,749 mobile tablets currently available for students and teachers to use while at school. Finely pointed out that the school would also like to offer tablets for students to be able to take home for use. A grant has been applied for that would help to reach this goal.

“Right now, students in AP (advanced placement) take one home to use,” Finely spoke of the current use of mobile tablets.

The Fannin County Board of Education will hold their next regular meeting on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018.

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Parsons back as zoning administrator of Blue Ridge

News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnson Paving has been awarded the bid for both projects.

 

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

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Jason Beck

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

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

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Natalie Kissel

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