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.

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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.”

 

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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

Dr. Gwatney Shares His Views About School Tax Exemption

Education, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney presented his stance concerning school tax exemption for seniors in Fannin County.

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Dr. Gwatney presents his concerns about upcoming Town Hall discussion.

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.

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Board of Education members listen to Dr. Gwatney’s presentation.

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.”

 

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