Superintendent Gwatney Contract Renewed

Education
Board and Superintendent Gwatney

Blue Ridge, Ga – Board of Education approved a new contract for Superintendent Michael Gwatney during June meeting.

Board of Education Chairman Lewis DeWeese commended Gwatney on his work, “The board has been pleased with the Dr. Michael Gwatney’s work as our Superintendent and based on the results of his evaluation and his performance this year, the board approves an additional year for a three year contract to begin July 1, 2019.”

During Superintendent Comments, Gwatney remarked on the honor to serve Fannin School District and the extraordinary work everyone in the county and education system does for the students.

Dr. Michael Gwatney

Gwatney’s new term begins on July 1.

“I’m privileged to have the opportunity to be a part of this system and serve for so many years,” observed Gwatney, “My time here has been an enjoyable experience, and like everything that is truly important in life, it’s the people who make it that way. So I want to thank my colleagues, the directors that are here, the staff that are here, and the principals that are here. Thank you for everything that you do for our kids.”

Gwatney introduced the three new department leaders to the board, starting with Director of Transportation, Denver Foster. He worked for the transportation department for 14 years under Ben Long.

“I feel like we have an exceptional department. We have 40 main route buses, transport about 1,250 children a day and our main focus is always student safety, said Foster, “I have a vision for our department. I have quite a few things I want to do, including upgrading technology – routing software and some other things to make that safer.”

Foster also brought the winners of the May 15 School Bus Road-e-o, where bus drivers participate in a skills course that includes parallel parking. The three winners were:

School bus Road-e-o participants took part in several activities to demonstrate skill operating the vehicle.

  • Tim Massaro, First Place
  • Tim Joiner, Second Place
  • Jeff Johnstone, Third Place

Massaro also participated in the state school bus road-e-o and placed 20th out of 61.

Next, Gwatney introduced the Director of Instructional Services and Policy Sarah Welch. She’s the daughter of two educators and a graduate of Fannin County with 16 years of experience.

“I’m honored to be in this position,” said Welch, “I’ll be working a lot with our curriculum and professional learning. My vision is ensuring equity for all learners. We know that everyone comes in they start school in different places. We want everybody to be able to access the curriculum to meet their needs and no matter where you start to be able to push you forward.”

She cited depth, progression, and exploration as needed areas to develop for children to grow as learners. The school’s responsibility doesn’t stop when the children leave. It continues after hours and in the community, giving teachers and students the materials necessary to cultivate learning opportunities.

When Welch finished, DeWeese stated, “Contagious enthusiasm, if you pass that to your students, I don’t think they’ll ever forget you.”

After Welch, Gwatney stated that Darren Danner has officially started his position as Assistant Superintendent.

Danner remarked, “I’m honored to have this position and thanks to Dr. Gwatney and the Board for their support up to this point. We hope we can keep things going under the current leadership.

We’re going to automate some things in the maintenance department and continue building first-class facilities in the state of Georgia and the Southeast. We need your support to do that and the Fannin County voters to continue to support SPLOST. That’s my vision for the maintenance department.”

Snack in a Backpack holds Mardi Gras event at Merciers Orchard

Community, News

Bringing a taste of New Orleans to the North Georgia Mountains was one goal of Snack in a Backpack (SIAB) organization. Lots of good food, festive music, and camaraderie of fellow Fannin County citizens gathering together to raise money for the SIAB program were a few other goals. Mercier Orchards graciously donated their facility for the gallant evening.

Each weekday Fannin County children are given meals at breakfast and lunch. On weekends many children who rely on school meals might go without nourishing food or not have enough to eat. Snack in a Backpack volunteers begin packing bags with non-perishable, healthy food on Wednesdays at 9:30 a.m. to ensure children have something to take home for the weekend.

Lee Walker, Dr. & Mrs. Michael Gwatney, Karl Wilson

School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney said while standing in line for the buffet at the nights event, “The hardest decision I ever have to make is to close a school. If I have to delay a school opening, that means a child doesn’t get breakfast. Or if I have close the school for the day, the child does not get breakfast or lunch.”

Guests were treated with a wonderful array of foods on the buffet table cooked by chefs at Merciers Orchards. Food choices included chicken gumbo, shrimp and sausage jambalaya, and black-eyed peas among other snacks and salads. Popular choices of Louisiana cooks during Mardi Gras.

Desserts were made by local bakery artisans at Chester’s,Tonia Ross, and Sweet Shoppe of the South. Ross provided a two-layer sheet cake, Chester’s donated two pies, and Sweet Shoppe delivered cupcakes. All sweets definitely delighted the palates of the guests by the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ being heard in the room.

Rollin’ Blues Band

Attendees visited with each other, made bids for silent auction items on display in one of Merciers sales room while listening to Rollin’ Bones Band playing R & B, rock, and soul music. Winners of generous bids walked away with beautiful prizes and the funds go to Snack in a Backpack.

Mardi Gras themed Bringin’ the Blues to Blue Ridge was the 10th annual fundraiser for Snack in a Backpack.

 

 

Event table sponsors were:

  • A. D. Frazier Family.
  • America’s Home Place.
  • Blue Ridge Coin Shop.
  • Dickey-McCay Insurance.
  • United Community Bank.
  • Woodman Life (Richard York).

 

Volunteers are always welcome to help prepare the weekly bags or to deliver to designated schools. For more information contact Angela Huffstetler, program director at 706-851-8190 or backpackfannin@gmail.com.

All donations are tax deductible. Personal and corporate donations help keep this much needed program successful and are sincerely appreciated. Donations can be made by cash, check or PayPal.

 

 

 

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Board of Education approves purchase of 750 Chromebooks

News, Rebel's Corner
Board and Superintendent Gwatney

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Education met in a special called meeting Wednesday, May 30, to approve the purchase of 750 Chromebooks to be used by students in the school system in grades eight through 12.

Heather Finley, director of instructional technology, explained the HP G6 Education Edition Chromebooks would be purchased from SHI for a total of $159,525. The purchase will be mostly reimbursed by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement with funds received through a Connections for Classroom grant. The grant, which is for $146,550, will cover the price ($146,337.60) for 688 of the 750 Chromebooks. The remaining 62 Chromebooks will cost $13,187.40 and this purchase will be made with funds from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).

The devices, according to information presented by Finley, feature four gigabytes of RAM (random access memory), high definition graphics, and WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities.

“We are very excited,” Finley said of the purchase. “I feel like I’ve been working all year for this.”

The bid from SHI was the lowest among eight sealed bids, and the purchase of the Chromebooks adds to the 500 the school system already has in use.

“(This purchase) is going to complete the mission of putting a Chromebook in every child’s hands (grade) eight through 12,” Fannin County School Superintendent Michael Gwatney said.

According to Finley, when the Chromebooks are distributed to students in August at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, students will be allowed to take the devices home to use.

After Board member Steve Stanley asked if the devices would function for students who do not have Internet access at home, Finley explained homework assignments could be easily downloaded before leaving school or another WiFi hotspot and completed without the use of Internet.

Stanley also inquired about the possibility of outfitting more school buses with WiFi. Currently, according to Finley, seven buses have WiFi technology. “I think it’s more important to try to expand it to get it on all of our buses because as you know, many of our kids that live out in Suches – being able to, on an hour bus ride, to get your homework done on the way home, that’s a huge benefit,” Finley stated.

After further discussion, the board unanimously approved the purchase of the Chromebooks. Board members Chad Galloway and Terry Bramlett were absent from the meeting.

In addition, the board also approved a purchase for content filtering software from STRYKE Security, Inc. in the amount of $16,320.00. As Finley explained, this purchase, when combined with a previous purchase from the same company for content filtering devices totals $36,784.04. Finley also noted the previous purchase utilized SPLOST funds while the current purchase would draw from local funds. The new filtering devices and software will replace the current content filter, which is unable to handle planned Internet speed upgrades and increased devices on the school’s network.

“Even if (the students are) on their own WiFi at home, this new content filter can let us know and even block things that they’re doing at home that they shouldn’t be doing. Everything gets rerouted back through our servers here at the tech hub,” Finley said.

The board also approved this purchase unanimously.

 

 

Author

Jason Beck

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

Acccomplishments told, retirees honored at Fannin Schools end-of-year meeting

Rebel's Corner

The Star Teacher and Student of the Year for the Fannin County School System were Sarah Welch, left, and Jordan Newman, respectively.

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Several school system accomplishments were mentioned and this school year’s retirees were honored at the end-of-the-year meeting of Fannin County Schools at the Performing Arts Center Wednesday, May 30.

Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney kicked the meeting off by announcing 198 students recently graduated from Fannin County High School.

“That’s reflective of the wonderful work that is done by the faculty and staff and leadership at Fannin County High School,” Gwatney added, “but it also speaks volumes for what happens at elementary and middle schools to prepare the students to get them to these levels.”

Gwatney also thanked the Board of Education for a 1 percent across-the-board permanent pay increase for school system personnel.

“And as I stand here before you today, always remember that you are a member of the greatest and most honorable profession,” the superintendent told the countless number of educators and school employees in attendance. “Ladies and gentlemen, ours is the one profession in which all professions must pass.”

Later, Board of Education member Steve Stanley praised Gwatney’s own leadership asking everyone in attendance, “Don’t you guys think that Dr. Gwatney did a great job this year?”

To this, the audience responded with a resounding round of applause for the superintendent.

Lewis DeWeese, BOE chairman, also spoke of the change he saw this year under Dr. Gwatney. “I’ve been saying it for the last year or so, our system has a new spirit, a new friendly, open, honest willingness to share (and) work together,” DeWeese stated.

BOE member Bobby Bearden also took a moment to thank the employees of the school system saying, “It’s been a blessing and an honor to work with people like you.”

Several awards and achievements, received both for schools and individuals throughout the school year, were recognized at the meeting.

This school year’s Teachers of the Year were also mentioned again during the meeting. Those educators included Erin Colbert, from Blue Ridge Elementary, Kathy Culpepper, from East Fannin Elementary, Amber Mitchell, from West Fannin Elementary, Nathasha Anderson, from Fannin County Middle, and Shan Culpepper, from Fannin County High. Culpepper also held the distinction of being Teacher of the Year for the entire school system.

The Star Teacher and Student of the Year for the Fannin County School System were Sarah Welch, left, and Jordan Newman, respectively.

Sarah Welch and Jordan Newman were also recognized this past school year for being the Star Teacher and Star Student of the Year for 2017-18, respectively.

Regarding the high school, Fannin County High School (FCHS) was also ranked statewide and nationally in U.S. News’ annual Best High Schools rankings. According to those rankings, FCHS was ranked 63 in the state and 2,593 in the nation. This was the third time in the last four years FCHS has been ranked by U.S. News in this category with the previous years being 2015 and 2017. The high school also earned a Silver Award for falling in the top 12 percent nationally.

Fannin County Middle School (FCMS) was also praised for its accomplishments, most notably in that the school placed first in an online Reading Bowl and fourth in face-to-face competition. FCMS also earned an honorary degree in life science.

Blue Ridge Elementary received recognition for earning a High Progress Award among Title 1 schools. High Progress Award schools are among the top 10 percent of Title 1 schools based on the three-year average of College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) progress scores.

East Fannin Elementary held the distinction this school year of being one of only five Family-Friendly Partnership Schools in the state of Georgia.

Also, West Fannin Elementary enjoyed the success of becoming the 36th Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) certified school in the state.

Twenty-five educators in the school system became certified as Level 1 Google Educators this school year. This status indicates that an educator is able to successfully implement Google Suite for Education into their teaching practice in order to enhance teaching and learning.

The Fannin County Schools nutritional program participated in the Shake It Up initiative this past school year.

The school system’s nutrition program participated in the Shake It Up initiative, which is a state-wide initiative to change the culture school nutrition in three areas: tasty meals, friendly cafeterias and happy schools. The nutrition programs at all five county schools received the Gold Award in this initiative.

The school system also took time to honor this year’s retirees throughout Fannin County Schools. Those retirees included:

· From Blue Ridge Elementary, media specialist Robbie Callihan and nutritionist Mildred Johnson;

· From East Fannin Elementary, teachers Katie Holloway and Lynn Weeks, academic coach Crystal Cooke, and paraprofessional Sandra Ross;

· From West Fannin Elementary, nutritionist Wanda Stewart and teacher Betty Holsonback;

Fannin County Schools honored 27 retirees from the school system at its end-of-the-year meeting Wednesday, May 30.

· From Fannin County Middle, teachers Cindy Wood and Linda Nave, and nutritionists Judy Glasgow, Sue Postell, and Gayle Queen;

· From Fannin County High, secretaries Robin Kirby and Gail Bennett, paraprofessional Phillip Nastyn, teachers Terry Callihan and Kim Kribbs, and nutritionists Amanda O’Neal and Leslie Perenich;

· System-wide deaf/hard of hearing teacher Marcie Harper and speech therapist Pam Lapham;

· School bus drivers Margie Kolesky and Sheryl Campbell;

· From the school system maintenance department, Archie Bice; and

· From the Central Office, accounts payable bookkeeper Connie Grindstaff and Associate Superintendent Betsy Hyde.

“What an honor this has been,” Gwatney told the retirees. “I wish you all the best.”

Following the ceremony, the rock band Apollo, which is comprised of three Fannin County students, played a spirited version of the Foo Fighters’ classic anthem “My Hero” as a tribute to the retirees as well as the existing educators and employees of the Fannin County School System.

Concluding the day’s event, Gwatney stated, “Ladies and gentlemen, we aspire to guide and lead the future, but most of all, you remember why we’re here. It’s for the kids. Everyone have a great summer.”

 

Author

Jason Beck

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

Make-up days scheduled for Fannin County students

Education, News, Rebel's Corner
Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Education, GEMA, FEMA, Michael Ruple, EMA Director Robert Graham, Lt. Darvin Couch

 

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney released a statement on Jan. 26 regarding the use of the school district’s emergency make-up days.

Students within the Fannin County School System (FCSS) have missed a total of ten days for the 2017-2018 calendar year.

Concerning these interruptions to the school schedule, Gwatney stated,”The decision to close school is stressful and difficult. The decision is never made lightly, and the safety of our entire FCSS community – students, faculty, staff, and parents – is always the key factor.”

The following dates will now be used as make-up days for FCSS:

  • Feb. 19 and 20;
  • March 12 and 13; and
  • April 5 and 6.

These days will be scheduled as regular school days for both students and staff.

“Although I hope these interruptions are over, the potential for adverse weather remains,” Gwatney stated. “Reclaiming these days will make a difference by offsetting a portion of what has already been missed.”

In the event that future cancellations occur due to inclement weather, some or all of the remaining make-up days (March 30 and April 2 through 4) may become regular school days.

 

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

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

City officials meet with county, school representatives over construction projects

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Blue Ridge Mayor Donna Whitener and Utility Supervisor Becky Harkins sat down with officials from the county and the Fannin County Board of Education (FCBOE) as well as County and FCBOE Attorney Lynn Doss and engineers and contractors Tuesday, Dec. 19.

The meeting, as Harkins explained, was a pre-construction meeting that should have taken place before construction began on both the Fannin County Agriculture and Environmental Science Facility and the county’s public safety complex. The city requires a number of pre-construction items to be completed before a construction project is allowed to tap into city water lines. Harkins stated after former Director of Land Development Roy Parsons retired unexpectedly earlier in the year, the pre-construction meeting “fell off the grid (and) didn’t take place” before both entities began construction on their respective projects.

“Our agenda today is to get everybody the information they need in order move forward in a timely manner so that you can complete your projects on time and the lines are up to city development standards so that when you’re done, we can complete the process of taking those lines over, which was the desired attempt from the beginning,” Harkins said.

Harkins distributed a project checklist for everyone present, who included Fannin County Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton, Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham, Fannin County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney and Fannin County Schools Facility and Maintenance Director Danny Shinpaugh.

The most pressing issue on the checklist is receiving approval from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) for the water main extension from Ada Street to Windy Ridge Road. According to Harkins, whenever the city or an independent developer extends a water line for which the city will eventually assume responsibility, the plans must be approved by the EPD as required by the state.

Part of the purpose of the meeting was to determine which entity – the school system or the county – would be responsible for submitting plans to EPD for approval.

Southern Architects and Engineers (A&E) is the engineering firm charged with the construction of the agriculture facility, and Michael Waldbillig, vice president of mechanical engineering for Southern A&E, explained the main extension from Ada will directly service the agriculture facility with the public safety complex line later tapping into the Ag building line at the first manhole after the extension from the existing city line.

Waldbillig inevitably agreed to send the plans for the extension to EPD since the immediate extension from the existing city line will be tied directly to the agriculture facility. Harkins also requested for the plans to be forwarded to the city for final review before Waldbillig sent the plans to EPD, which Waldbillig agreed to do.

Also, during the meeting, a meter vault located at the forthcoming public safety complex was discussed. It was revealed that an additional meter would need to be installed in the vault and the vault would have to be modified. According to EMA Director Graham, the vault, as originally designed, was not large enough to hold a fire line meter.

Graham confirmed that the modification of the vault would increase the overall cost of the public safety complex, but that the county would likely speak with representatives from R Design Works, the engineering firm that designed the public safety complex, and request that the firm cover the costs for the modification.

As far as any delays to the completion of the complex, Graham stated construction was still on schedule despite the need to modify the meter vault, and the projected completion date remains at the end of May 2018.

Regarding the continued construction of the school system’s agriculture facility, Gwatney and Shinpaugh both agreed that they did not anticipate any delays or additional costs to result from the city’s requirements concerning the water main extension and construction would continue as planned. Although the anticipated date of completion for the project is planned for sometime near the end of the school year, Shinpaugh did add that inclement weather in the coming months could be a factor in the construction process of the facility.

 

Author

Jason Beck

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

Fannin County Schools recognized for their farm-to-school program

Community, Education

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County School System was recognized for outstanding achievement in its farm-to-school program.

FetchYourNews, Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Morganton, Mineral Bluff, McCaysville, Georgia, Fannin County Board of Education, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Candice Sission, Golden Radish, Georgia Organics

The Board of Education receives Golden Radish Award on behalf of all schools in our district.

Over 40 percent of school districts in Georgia participate in this program. Combined, these districts served more than 97 million school meals with local food items during the 2016-17 school year.

Georgia Organics founded the state’s first farm-to-school program in 2007. “It’s astounding that over 40 percent of our school districts are actively involved in The Golden Radish Awards after only four years of establishing the program,” Georgia Organics Executive Director Alice Rolls stated.

The farm-to-school program gives students an opportunity to learn the basics of gardening and helps support local economies through local food purchases for school meals.

Fannin County School Nutrition Director Candice Sisson was present to present the Board of Education with the Golden Radish Award received for our district.

The Fannin County School System was recognized at the Gold Level for their accomplishments during the 2016-17 school year. Some of the areas for which Fannin County was recognized include:

– Students incubated, hatched, raised chickens and harvested their eggs. The eggs are just one of the many locally produced items featured in taste tests;

-Every school in Fannin County has a school garden and two elementary schools have greenhouses; and

-Twenty farm-to-school standard-based lessons were taught throughout the school year, including Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) lessons on plant growth in the school garden.

Discussion among board members began about this type of curriculum having not always been taught in schools, except in specific agricultural classes or clubs.

Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney pointed out, “It was something that the children came to school knowing this. The way we (society) has changed through the years, it’s wonderful that school can respond to that need, and school can now provide these experiences for them to in turn take back home.”

Board Member Terry Bramlett agreed and added, “Not only does it increase their knowledge and appreciation of where food comes from, but agriculture remains the number one industry in the state of Georgia.”

 

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

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Hundreds gather for Fannin County Senior Homestead Exemption town hall

Politics

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The crowd spilled into the hall outside the Jury Assembly Room of the Fannin County Courthouse for a town hall meeting addressing a potential Homestead Property Tax Exemption for seniors Thursday, Nov. 16, as hundreds attended, mostly to oppose the exemption.

The change would exempt Fannin property owners 65 and older from paying the school property tax.

The meeting began with brief addresses from Georgia House Speaker and Fannin County resident David Ralston and Georgia State Senator Steve Gooch who were present to hear arguments for and against the exemption.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston attended a town hall meeting Thursday night over a potential school tax exemption for Fannin seniors.

Ralston explained the exemption would have to pass with a two-thirds majority vote in both the Georgia House of Representatives and State Senate before being placed on the ballot for the 2018 Fannin County General Election. The speaker added neither he nor Senator Gooch had come to a position yet concerning the potential change for Fannin taxpayers.

“It’s a big issue,” Ralston said at the town hall, “and big issues have big consequences. Consequences for people that are on fixed incomes having to pay property taxes that are seniors and big consequences for our public schools here in the county.”

Senator Gooch told of his experience with the exemption during his tenure as Sole Commissioner of Lumpkin County. “I warned people at the time that there were good and bad consequences to legislation like that, and I hope whatever happens here in Fannin County, people will get the facts before they make their decisions on whether they support something or not support something.”

Gooch stated he was not in favor of property taxes and would like to see a shift to a consumption tax to allow property tax relief for all taxpayers. The senator also stated, “Every time you create an exemption for any kind of a tax, you’re shifting the burden to everyone else that’s not getting these exemptions.”

State Senator Steve Gooch heard arguments for and against a potential senior school tax exemption Thursday night.

Following Gooch was Blake Doss, policy analyst for the Georgia House Budget and Research office. Doss gave a short presentation and told that Fannin has a population of 6,523 age 65 and older, which accounts for approximately 26 percent of the county’s total population of 24,985. Doss also said the local school system received $18,501,250 (55 percent) of its 2016-17 revenue from property taxes while the remainder derived from state and federal funding.

Doss estimated a senior tax exemption would shift the burden to 40 to 45 percent of the county population. Later, Doss also said 33 to 35 percent of the county’s population would fall under the exemption eligibility in the next few years. He further stated the county currently has two tax exemptions in place available for seniors. One such exemption, Doss said, gives taxpayers 62 and older an up to $30,000 exemption of their 40 percent assessed property if they meet income qualifications. Another, again based on income qualifications, provides a property valuation freeze for taxpayers 70 and older.

The overwhelming majority of citizens in attendance opposed the issue as evidenced by wearing bright orange stickers reading “Support Education.”

Among those, Rita VanOrsdal stated, “Without adequate funding, schools will send (students) out less prepared … I believe that cutting my age group’s taxes will do nothing but denigrate the quality of education of those coming after.”

Mike Queen, former Fannin School Board chairman, said he understood both arguments concerning the issue but added the exemption would put a burden on younger taxpayers and families. “I pay a hefty tax … Every dollar I spend on education is an investment in the future of this county,” Queen said.

Current Fannin School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney informed the audience Fannin County spends more per capita on students -$10,923.20 per student – than the state average – $9,020.46 – despite having the sixth lowest school millage rate in the state (11.23 mills). According to Gwatney, the state average for school millage rates is 16.36 mills. Gwatney estimates Fannin County Schools would lose $1.4 million dollars annually if the exemption is passed.

“Education is an investment, and it’s a good investment,” Gwatney said.

Gwatney also alluded to the struggles Gilmer County Schools have had since that county instituted a similar exemption in recent years. “History has a tendency to repeat itself. The showing in this room tonight does not want to repeat the history of Gilmer County,” Gwatney said.

Chief Executive Officer of Fannin Regional Hospital David Sanders also opposed the exemption and explained that the exemption would affect more than just the school system. Sanders stated during his seven years as CEO of the hospital he has recruited over 25 new physicians.

“Every time I recruit a new physician here, the first question they ask is ‘What’s the school system like?'” Sanders said. “And every time it is a privilege to be able to say we’ve got one of the best public school systems in the country.”

Another exemption opponent told Ralston and Gooch, “I feel like our opinion has been voiced … and if our opinion has not been voiced and (the exemption) makes it to the ballot, that will be on the same ballot as the election you guys will be campaigning for.”

Among those in favor of the senior exemption was Fannin County citizen Jim Klack who explained he had lived in Fannin for over 20 years and in that time has paid approximately $100,000 in school taxes. Klack added he currently pays $500 a month in school taxes.

“I’m 85 years old. When do I get any (tax) relief?” Klack asked. “I support the schools and I give them money, but I should not be paying school taxes – $500 a month – when I’m 85  years old and never had a kid in school in Fannin County.”

Also, Klack said 28 counties in Georgia offered a senior tax exemption for taxpayers 65 and older.

Another supporter of the exemption pointed out the majority of opponents and claimed older taxpayers were not notified of the town hall meeting to the same level of publicity that opponents of the exemption were.

To this, Speaker Ralston told the lady he had sent out personal letters over the last two weeks to supporters of the exemption for whom he had contact information, inviting their attendance and participation, and also sent out proper notifications to newspapers informing all residents of the meeting.

In a follow-up interview with Ralston, the speaker described the meeting as “very helpful and very spirited” and said he saw “intense feelings on both sides of the issue.”

“There are certain issues that a community needs to have a discussion about,” Ralston said, “and this meeting helped me to gauge the sense of the community on this exemption.”

The speaker added that he and Senator Gooch would take their time to digest what was said at the town hall before moving forward with the senior tax exemption.

Continue to follow FetchYourNews for more on the status of the senior tax exemption.

Author

Jason Beck

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

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