BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney presented his stance concerning school tax exemption for seniors in Fannin County.
An upcoming Town Hall is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017, at 5:30 p.m. This meeting will take place in the Jury Assembly Room of the Fannin County Courthouse.
State Representative David Ralston and State Senator Steve Gooch will be present to hear arguments from both sides.
If representatives decide to move forward, the possible Senior Homestead Exemption would have to be approved by the 2018 session of the Georgia General Assembly and then would be decided by Fannin County voters in the 2018 general election.
Dr. Gwatney addressed the board and residents present at the November 9 Board of Education meeting.
Gwatney cited statistics for Fannin County and for the Fannin County School System. According to these statistics, just under 30 percent of residents in Fannin County could benefit from this possible Homestead Exemption.
This large portion of the population, if passed, could account for schools in Fannin County losing up to $1.4 million annually.
Gwatney pointed out that, “The only generation that will benefit from the exemption is the one that will be exempt now; all other generations will pay more taxes.”
A similar exemption passed in Gilmer County. Dr. Gwatney showed that after the exemption was passed, it had a negative effect on the area. The millage rate increased to account for the loss, putting a heavier burden on those not exempt from the tax.
Gwatney also cited that Gilmer experienced furloughs and a closing of a school. He stated that the citizens of Gilmer County “paid more for less.”
According to the Georgia School Superintendents Association, the current average millage rate for schools in Georgia is 16.36. Fannin County’s school millage rate sits at 11.23.
Gwatney stated, “This board has shown consistent, conservative leadership in respect with people’s money.”
He showed that while Fannin County has a lower millage rate than the average for the state, Fannin County still is able to spend more per student than the average amount spent statewide.
Dr Gwatney concluded, “My opportunities here were possible due to the effort of the previous generation.”
He added that this is “my opportunity to stand up for our next generation of Fannin County.”
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
GDOT’s Oct. 19th public hearing on the Hwy. 5 Improvement and McCaysville Truck Bypass began at 4 pm. By 5:30, GDOT already had a count of 354 attendees and the hearing still had two and one-half hours to go. GDOT did not give any formal announcements during the public hearing. Its role was to explain the project and listen to people’s reactions. To explain the project, GDOT placed five large scale maps of the roads’ routes throughout West Fannin Elementary School gymnasium. It also gave a handout containing GDOT contact numbers, project information and route maps to attendees. Altogether, GDOT brought 17 staff connected to the project to listen to the public and answer questions. GDOT also collected written comments and attendee’s verbal comments.
FetchYourNews caught up with various attendees – homeowners, elected officials and GDOT employees – to hear their comments about the Hwy. 5 project. To read specifics about the project, please see accompanying article “GDOT Unveils Hwy. 5 Improvement Project”.
Joyce Mitchell – Mitchell came to find out information for herself and her son. Mitchell lives in Epworth and travels Hwy. 5 nearly every day. Mitchell’s son has a home on Blue Ridge Drive. Mitchell said it will be nice to have the highway widened because there is a real need. Her concerns are over what property will be purchased and how close the road will be to her son’s front door. Mitchell also commented that the satellite images GDOT is using for maps are too old because they don’t show buildings like Dollar General and Nicholson Tire.
John and Laney Mason – John Mason came with two ideas in mind. He is not pro- or anti-road; he just doesn’t want to be “hoo-dooed” by the government during road construction. The Mason’s bought property between the Insurance Mart and Abernathy’s Furniture two years ago for $200,000. Mason wants to make sure they can get their money’s worth out of the property. Laney Mason has a slightly different take on the construction. She enjoys watching the wildlife – deer, bears, coyotes and beautiful rabbits when she sits on the front porch to her house. She wonders how road construction will affect how the animals show up at her house.
Sam and Donna Walker – The Walkers live off George Curtis Rd. Sam Walker is the owner of Alpha Surveying Group. His work requires him to travel north and south on Hwy. 5 all the time. Walker said that the highway improvement, especially the McCaysville/Copperhill bypass, will free up travel time. Walker is waiting until GDOT has its firm and actual plans before commenting on how Hwy. 5 improvements will affect his daily life.
Larry Jo Sosebee, Post-Two Commissioner – “As soon as we break dirt, I’ll believe it. I remember my parents talking about it (Hwy. 5 widening).”
House Speaker David Ralston – “It’s not a matter of me wanting to get the project for the district. There has been community interest in this for over 25 years,” said Ralston. He reiterated what GDOT was telling all attendees, that the current route design is a proposal and not a definite plan. The definite plan will be the outcome of public comments and future hearings.
FetchYourNews asked Ralston about adding a stoplight to the intersection of Tom Boyd Road and Hwy. 5. Safety concerns about this intersection have been brought up in Board of Commissioners meetings this year. Ralston said he supports the request for a stoplight at Tom Boyd Road and has expressed this to GDOT and asked them to make a consideration for the Tom Boyd Hwy. 5 intersection.
State Senator Steve Gooch – Gooch has been hearing about Hwy. 5 since before he was a State Senator. Gooch served on the State Transportation Board which oversees GDOT and state-wide road improvements before becoming State Senator. Gooch said that the Hwy. 5 project is primarily safety improvement which will also have a positive impact on jobs and businesses in the community. Gooch continued that Hwy. 5 is one of the busiest routes in the county and needs intersection improvements along the way. Gooch encouraged residents to give GDOT information about the roads’ route because residents have information about specifics, like graveyards or intersection improvements, that GDOT doesn’t have.
Board of Commissioners Chair-Elect Stan Helton – Helton would also like to see a light at Tom Boyd Road. He recounted passing through the intersection one day and seeing the look of “sheer terror” on a mother’s face as she, with her young child strapped in the car seat in back, was trying to turn onto Hwy. 5.
Georgia Department of Transportation
Mohamed Arafa, GDOT Public Relations Manager for the Hwy. 5 project – Over and over again Arafa stated that nothing has been set in stone. GDOT really wants public involvement in the planning process and public involvement makes a big difference in a project’s outcome because “Fannin residents are the best to express what serves them better.” Arafa added, “GDOT strongly believes that the project belongs to the public.
The Hwy. 5 project serves two purposes, to enhance safety and support Georgia’s economy said Arafa. Speaking about the McCaysville Truck Bypass, Arafa said that most of the trucks that currently go through McCaysville is not for McCaysville, it is for destinations beyond McCaysville. The bypass will ease congestion within McCaysville and make the city safer for pedestrians.
Arafa emphasized that GDOT wants to minimize impact of roads on social resources, like community integrity and historic locations, and natural resources, like trout streams, noise level and air quality. Each transportation project conducts environmental studies about these concerns and welcomes the public’s input about environmental impact said Arafa.
Nicole Law, GDOT Project Manager for Hwy. 5 Improvement and McCaysville Truck Bypass – Law will be overseeing the project both from her office in Atlanta and on the ground in Fannin County. Her responsibility is to keep the project moving and on schedule. Law says that GDOT will be communicating general information about the project timeline and property purchases through its website. Residents can contact Law at 404-631-1723.
Law said that she and GDOT won’t be able to give any specifics about property purchase until a year or more from now. Property owners will be informed through letters and phone calls. Law’s phone
Aaron Burgess, GDOT Environmental Analyst for the Hwy. 5 project – Burgess is responsible for putting together a synopsis of the ecology, history, archeology, cultural assessment, air quality and noise impact for areas affected by the project. Burgess said that residents who are concerned about the routes’ passage through historic property or other environmental concerns should contact him. Burgess’ phone number is 404-631-1159.
At this time, no other public hearings are scheduled. After the public comment period closes, GDOT will compile comments and GDOT’s answers to the comments. Then, Law will determine if and when more public hearings will be held.
A large scale map of the project is on display at Fannin County Chamber of Commerce. There is not any map on display at the Fannin County Court House or McCaysville City Hall. To view the map online, go to http://www.dot.ga.gov/PS/Public/PublicOutreach. Once on the page, search projects by county, choose Fannin County, click on SR 5 Improvements and McCaysville Truck Bypass. There are several maps. One shows road width, one the entire project and one concentrates more on the bypass.
There are two ways you can make public comments. One, go to http://www.dot.ga.gov/PS/Public/PublicOutreach. Once on the page, search projects by county, choose Fannin County, click on SR 5 Improvements and McCaysville Truck Bypass. The comment option appears in small green letters above the project details. You can also send comments by mail. Address comments to
Mr. Eric Duff, State Environmental Administrator
Georgia Department of Transportation
Office of Environmental Services
One Georgia Center
600 West Peachtree Street, N.W.
Atlanta, GA 30308
FetchYourNews will give an analysis of the comments and GDOT’s response when those become available. GDOT believes this will be by mid-November.
The decision about transgender bathrooms in Fannin County schools has been taken out of the hands of the Fannin County School Board. On May 25, Georgia, along with 10 other states sued the federal government over the federal guidelines that directed school to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker facilities that match their gender identities. The other 10 states in the lawsuit are from all over the county: Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Utah. On Friday, Kentucky joined the lawsuit. North Dakota’s Attorney General said he would like North Dakota to join the lawsuit and probably more states will follow. The federal departments that are defendants in the lawsuit are the Department of Education, Department of Justice, United States Equal Opportunity Commission and the Department of Labor.
The original eleven states say that they are bringing the lawsuit against the federal government because:
“Defendants [the federal government agencies] have conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the county into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights… Absent action in Congress, the States, or local communities, defendants cannot foist these radical changes on the nation.” (click here to read the lawsuit)
Georgia and the other states filed the lawsuit in response to the May 13, US Department of Justice and the Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” letter sent to schools across the nation. The letter’s purpose is to provide information and examples about how school districts across the nation provide bathrooms and locker room facilities for transgender students. The letter also states that the federal government will evaluate other schools’ transgender policies and actions using the example school districts as a guideline. (click here to read the “Dear Colleague Letter”)
Along with the letter, the federal government sent a 18-page description of programs different schools and school districts throughout the United States have in place to accommodate transgender students. The description covers 20 local and state school districts. (read guidance programs described in the Department of Education’s “Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students”)
On May 25th ,the same day Georgia joined the 11-state lawsuit against the US Government, Fannin County Board of Education sent a letter to Fannin County parents. (read Mr. Henson’s letter here) The letter begins with quoting Georgia Department of Education’s belief the federal governments’ actions regarding accommodations for transgender students are an overreach of the Executive Branch of the Federal government. It goes on to quote Georgia’s Superintendent of School Richard Woods, who says, “I do not believe a student of another gender should use a restroom or locker alongside students of the opposite sex.”
Towards the end of the letter, Fannin Schools Superintendent Mark Henson states, “Fannin County will maintain restrooms and locker rooms for the 2016-2017 school year which are based on birth sex rather than gender identity. Alternate restrooms will be provided for any transgender students we may have enrolled next year.” Mr. Henson affirms that all current board members and staff support the Board of Education’s decision. Mr. Henson ends his comments about transgender bathrooms saying, “At the same time, we will continue to support ALL students in our system and protect each student’s personal right to a free, safe public education and the respect that each individual deserves at all times.”
Georgia started openly moving towards it opposition of the Federal government’s position regarding transgender bathrooms House Speaker David Ralston’s letter to Senator Isakson and Perdue on May 12th. Speaker Ralston wrote the letter on behalf of the citizens of Fannin County. In it Speaker Ralston says “the federal government is dictating to our locally-elected Board of Education with regards to the policies they enact in a way never seen before.” Coincidentally, May 12th , the day of Speaker Ralston’s letter, is also the day the Board of Education listened to 2 ½ hours of public opinion about transgender bathrooms. At the end of the public comments section, Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss, stated the school system’s opinion that forcing transgender bathrooms is government overreach and encouraged people to speak to their elected officials. (watch Ms. Doss’ comments here) The School Board echoed Ms. Doss’ comments during their comments at the end of the meeting. School Board Member Terry Bramlett said the people at the meeting tonight should share the same level of passion with representatives in Washington. He encouraged everyone to write to state and national officials whose duty it is to make legislation about transgender bathrooms.
On May 17th, State Senator Steve Gooch told the Helen City Commission that we’ve asked the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general to take a strong stand against the Federal government’s position on transgender bathrooms. That same day, Governor Nathan Deal issued a statement reading:
“Until Congress acts, I assure the citizens of Georgia that the offices of the governor, attorney general and state school superintendent will work cooperatively to protect the interests of Georgia’s children from this abuse of federal executive authority.”
Deal also asked Superintendent Woods to provide uniform state-wide guidance to Georgia schools in regards to accommodations for transgender students. May 20th, State School Superintendent Richard Woods sent a sort of “Dear Colleague” letter to Georgia Superintendents. In it, Mr. Woods uses the same language as Speaker Ralston’s letter. Mr. Woods says that the federal government’s guidance letter is an overreach of the Executive Branch of the federal government. The letter goes on to state Mr. Woods’ opinion about transgender bathrooms. He says, “I do not believe a student of another gender should use a restroom or locker room alongside students of the opposite sex.” The letter also promises that if the federal government brings a lawsuit against any school district, the state of Georgia will “take appropriate action.” (read Superintendent Woods’ letter here)
Later this week FetchYourNews will speak with Mr. Henson about how Georgia’s joining the 12 state lawsuit affects Fannin County School Systems’ potential financial liability in regards to accommodating transgender students.
Union County Republican Party / Union -Towns TEA Party Forum 4/30/2016.
Scroll down to watch video of each forum.