Citizens defend Tax Assessors

Community, News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Tax Assessors question county accounting practices

Community, News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Fannin County new hires will have a new retirement plan

Community, News

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

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

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

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

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

BOC discusses and fine tunes new retirement plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following roads will have portions scheduled for maintenance:

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

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

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

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

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

Points of Interest for the 2018 Budget.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Angie Arp appointed to Fannin County Water Authority

Business, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Water Authority will see a new board member in March while other departments saw reappointments to boards during the Feb. 13 Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting.

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee made recommendations for both the board of the Fannin County Water Authority and the board of the Fannin County Tax Assessors. Sosebee’s recommendations were met with approval of fellow BOC members.

Janie Bearden, a current member on the Board of Tax Assessors, saw reappointment to this board for another term.

Another reappointment came to the Fannin County Water Authority as Larry Chapman was unanimously approved to serve another term.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Littering, Trash Services, Land Developement, Marie Woody, Fannin County Sheriff, Dane Kirby, Tax Assessors, Dawn Cochran, Janie Bearden, Fannin County Water Authority, Larry Chapman, Angie Arp, Department of Family and Children Services, Family Connection, Sherry Morris

Board of Commissioners get straight to business at February’s first meeting.

Angie Arp was also recommended by Sosebee for the Fannin County Water Authority board and was unanimously voted into this position. This three-year term will begin on March 1.

The BOC’s first monthly meeting opened with public commentary that brought about discussion from the board as well as from Fannin County Sheriff Dane Kirby.

Epworth resident Richard Sims discussed the ongoing littering problem throughout Fannin County: “The trash that’s littering the highways, I believe a large part of that is due to the home pick up services. These individuals are not securing garbage that they are picking up from homes and allowing it to literally blow off their trucks.”

Sims suggested possible solutions such as requiring these haulers to have hard top covers or begin strictly enforcing the county fines and issuing tickets for the maximum amount of $1,000.

Fannin County Commission Chairman Stan Helton took personal interest in this commentary, “I feel the board has been very assertive since day one on trying to attack this trash issue. That is something I don’t like to see myself.”

Helton believes that current county ordinances address this issue, and it is just a matter of finding an effective way to enforce the laws. Chief Land Development Officer Marie Woody is tasked with imposing these ordinances.

Unfortunately, Woody is only able to ticket these offenders if caught at current waste disposal facilities, and as Sheriff Dane Kirby pointed out, officers are unable to ticket offenders unless they personally witness the act.

“It’s a state law, in the state statute, that you can’t make traffic offenses based on what somebody else tells you,” Kirby explained.

Commissioners along with Kirby agreed to be more vigilant about this issue and pursue current county ordinances and fines in dealing with offenders.

Kirby, while not on the agenda, had an emergency expenditure arise that needed the board’s immediate approval. The dishwasher in the county jail recently quit operating, and upon inspection, it was recommended that the stove in the jail also be replaced.

Both appliances have been in use since the current jail opened several years ago.

“We don’t put items like that in our budget,” Kirby explained of the department’s predicament to the board. “We just don’t plan for things like that happening.”

Ed Hawkins, with the Fannin County Maintenance Department, researched replacement appliances for Kirby, and Kirby deferred to Hawkins’ recommendations.

The industrial dishwasher found would cost the county approximately $20,000 and the new stove would run around $2,500.

Kirby described the two quotes that were obtained for the replacement dishwasher: “One of them was a $20,000 dishwasher and they installed it for free, and the other one was a $15,000 dishwasher and they charge you $5,000 to put it in.”

Helton motioned that the county replace both appliances for the jail, Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson seconded the motion, and all three commissioners voted in favor of the new appliances.

Commissioners re-entered into a contract with the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) regarding funding from the county.

No representatives from DFCS were present to discuss this funding.

Helton explained that this is an annual agreement that Fannin County has been involved in for years: “This is basically the budget we approve for 2018 – $50,558 – and we’re required each year to sign this showing that we are in fact going to fund them the amount that we say we will.”

Sherry Morris, director of Fannin County Family Connection, Inc., was present to ask the BOC that Fannin County continue to serve as Family Connection’s fiscal agent.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Littering, Trash Services, Land Developement, Marie Woody, Fannin County Sheriff, Dane Kirby, Tax Assessors, Dawn Cochran, Janie Bearden, Fannin County Water Authority, Larry Chapman, Angie Arp, Department of Family and Children Services, Family Connection, Sherry Morris

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee inspects the Tax Assessors new vehicles at the Fannin County Public Works Department.

Morris updated the board on services provided through Family Connection during 2017. According to Morris, 105 people were served through the pantry. This number is actually down about 9 percent from 2016.

Morris also personally thanked the BOC for entering into opioid litigation: “Thank you so much for working on that opioid (litigation), because as you (Helton) know from being a volunteer at Family Connection, we see first hand, day to day, what happens with families who are in the opioid crisis and the poverty that results from that.”

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran from the Fannin County Tax Assessor’s Department presented the BOC with a number of bids for two new vehicles for her department.

Two used vehicles will be purchased from North Georgia Ford. The 2016 Ford Escapes will come with a price tag of $20,000 each.

Through negotiation, Cochran was able to receive a seven-year, 125,000-mile warranty on one of the vehicles, and an extended warranty on the other. The extended warranty will cover an additional 90,000 miles.

After a long debate on the need for these new vehicles the board unanimously approved the purchase of the two used Ford Escapes.

 

 

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

Commissioners conduct business before passing the 2018 budget

Community, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Fannin County Sheriff’s Office could receive a new vehicle after Chief Deputy Major Keith Bosen was involved in an accident on state Route 5.

Fannin County Sheriff Dane Kirby addressed the Board of Commissioners (BOC) on Dec. 12 with an unforeseen item that was not on the meeting agenda. Kirby explained to the board about the county vehicle that had been involved in the accident, “We got it out at Car Crafters, and they’re thinking it’s going to cost about what the vehicle is worth to fix it, so it’s likely going to be totaled.”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County Board of Commissioners, Chairman Stan Helton, Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson, Post Two Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee, Financial Director Robin Gazaway, Board of Assessors, Tax Assessors, 2018 Budget, Fannin County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Dane Kirby, Fannin Coutny Emergency Management Agency, EMA, Patrick Cooke

Sheriff Dane Kirby was present to discuss the renewal of contracts for the Fannin County Jail.

Kirby added, “We don’t have that set in stone.”

The vehicle suffered damage to the back end and also sustained damage to the frame. Kirby and Bosen had searched for a used vehicle after finding out about the extent of the damage, but we’re unable to locate one.

A new vehicle, which was found at Jacky Jones Ford in Cleveland, Georgia, has a price tag of $26,700. Kirby explained that he still had funds in his current budget to purchase this vehicle but had not allocated funds in 2018 for such a purchase.

Kirby stated that an insurance settlement from the wrecked vehicle would be used to partially reimburse the expenditure of securing the new vehicle.

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee questioned, “What if they don’t total the car out?”

“We have a lot of options there,” Kirby replied. “If another office needed that vehicle, we could turn it over to you all to issue out however you all saw fit.”

Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton looked for additional clarification: “So even if it’s fixed, it’s not something you want out there?”

Kirby and Bosen had discussed this possibility previously, and Bosen had expressed reluctance in continued use of the vehicle. “I’m not so sure I would want it for an emergency vehicle after all that damage has been done to it,” Kirby explained.

After some discussion, the BOC voted unanimously to allow the purchase of the new vehicle for Fannin County Sheriff’s Department.

The purchase of the new vehicle was a main focus, but Sheriff Dane Kirby was also present to have the BOC renew two contracts. These annual contracts concern food and health services provided to Fannin County Jail.

The cost of the food service contract showed a 1 percent increase, and the contract concerning healthcare increased by 3 percent.

“I don’t think our food service or our health provider has asked us for a percent increase since I have been in office,” Kirby said of the price difference for the 2018 contracts. “We have not had anything but flawless performance out of both of those providers.”

The BOC collectively agreed that the increase in cost of these two contracts was not unreasonable and unanimously voted to re-enter into both of the agreements.

Deputy Director of Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Patrick Cooke was also on the agenda to discuss the purchase of a radio tower for the new 911 facility.

The county’s new 911 facility will be located at 930 Windy Ridge Road, and construction is already underway.

Cooke presented three bids to the board for the purchase of the new 911 radio tower. The lowest bid was $22,000, and the highest bid came in at $40,030. Cooke stated, “There’s no reason why we cannot go with the lowest bid on this one.”

Sosebee questioned, “Do you have it in your budget?”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County Board of Commissioners, Chairman Stan Helton, Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson, Post Two Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee, Financial Director Robin Gazaway, Board of Assessors, Tax Assessors, 2018 Budget, Fannin County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Dane Kirby, Fannin Coutny Emergency Management Agency, EMA, Patrick Cooke

Gazaway presented the monthly budget update, and showed were departments stood as of Nov. 30.

Cooke explained that the purchase amount would be covered in the 2017 budget. A tower located on Bullen Gap Road had been damaged, and the majority of the cost of the new tower will come from an insurance reimbursement that the department had received.

The insurance settlement for $18,898.23 would offset the cost of the new tower to where only $3,101.77 would need to be pulled from the budget. The new tower would be able to communicate with the main repeater located on Brawley Mountain and would also act as a back up in the event that the main repeater went down.

The BOC voted unanimously for the purchase of the new radio tower, and construction of the new 911 facility is expected to move forward on schedule.

Fannin County Finance Director Robin Gazaway presented a monthly update of the county’s current budget prior to the BOC discussing and passing the county’s 2018 budget.

Through Nov. 30, the county is showing that it is under budget by approximately $500,000. Gazaway explained that as of the Nov. 30 date, the county was currently 92 percent into the budget for 2017.

Sosebee questioned specifically about the Tax Assessors budget, and Gazaway replied that they were $242,270 under budget for the year.

Gazaway did clarify, “I know they have a few more expenditures in December, but as of Nov. 30, they’re under budget.”

With information presented by Gazaway concerning the county’s spending and revenue, the BOC passed the 2018 Budget at the end of the meeting.

 

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

Commissioners come to agreement and pass 2018 county budget

Community, News
Fannin Court House

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – After a budget proposal that was met with opposition from some county departments and heavily scrutinized by the Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC), agreements were finally made and the Fannin County 2018 Budget was passed on Dec. 12.

The BOC held an all-day public workshop to discuss the 2018 Budget on Sep. 20. At this workshop, most county department heads came before the board with their department’s request for next year’s budget.

During the workshop, some departments made large cuts in spending. One such cut came from Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County Board of Commissioners, Chairman Stan Helton, Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson, Post Two Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee, Financial Director Robin Gazaway, Magistrate Judge Brian Jones, Magistrate Court, Public Woks Director, Zack Ratcliff, Board of Assessors, Tax Assessors, 2018 Budget, Public Hearing, Public Workshop

Magistrate Judge Brian Jones questioned the BOC as to why his salary line item had been cut at a Public Hearing for the 2018 Budget.

Ratcliff proposed approximately $300,000 in cuts to his department. These cuts came mainly from fuel purchases, tire allowances and payroll. This $300,000 decrease comes on top of an 11 percent decrease in the department’s budget last year.

Information from this workshop allowed Fannin County Finance Director Robin Gazaway along with the Board of Commissioners to review department line items and create a proposed budget for 2018.

This proposed budget was met with opposition from certain departments. The Board of Assessors (BOA) questioned the cuts proposed by the BOC. Having requested $977,370.00, the BOC ultimately only approved $848,265 for the BOA department.

Magistrate Judge Brian Jones also questioned the board at a public hearing held on Nov. 28. Jones had requested $114,240 in salaries for his department and was surprised to see that the proposed budget was only allocating him $104,958 in this area.

At the public hearing, Jones addressed the board by saying, “I would like you all to revisit the salary part of my budget. I am the only budget that was reduced in the salary portion.”

Jones stated that he did not care about his personal salary, which is mandated by the state of Georgia, but that he was concerned with the salaries of his staff. “I hired them at a beginner’s rate, or what I call a starter’s salary, and I think I should be allowed the opportunity to advance them as they learn and move forward in their jobs,” Jones explained.

Jones went on to list numerous responsibilities that his court has taken on from other courts in an attempt to “unclog the system.”

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson asked Jones if he was happy with everything else in his budget. Jones replied, “I’m fine with all of that. I’m just not happy with the salary portion because I think I should be able to advance my employees as they deserve to be advanced.”

Gazaway explained how the proposed amount for salaries within the Magistrate Court was determined: “I actually added up what they’re currently making, all of them, and added 2 percent, and it made a reduction in salary.”

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton added, “His employees are not getting cut on their salary. They’re getting a 2 percent raise, which is consistent with what we are doing with every other department in the county.”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County Board of Commissioners, Chairman Stan Helton, Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson, Post Two Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee, Financial Director Robin Gazaway, Magistrate Judge Brian Jones, Magistrate Court, Public Woks Director, Zack Ratcliff, Board of Assessors, Tax Assessors, 2018 Budget, Public Hearing, Public Workshop

Graph presented by Finance Director Robin Gazaway depicting county budget and millage rate.

At the Fannin County BOC meeting held Dec. 12, this issue was revisited before finalizing the 2018 Budget. Before the discussion of the budget took place, Finance Director Gazaway presented a graph depicting the county’s budget from 2014 to present, along with the county’s millage rate for this same time period.

During this period Fannin County’s spending budget has grown by approximately 40 percent, while the millage rate has dropped from 5.16 in 2014 to 4.176 in 2018. Gazaway stated, “We can’t keep this up.”

“This is really important for people to understand. If you go from 2014 to this year, in three years the budget has increased right at 40 percent with no tax increase,” Helton explained, “and that is unsustainable, and that is part of the reason why we are doing our best to start putting the brakes on that this year.”

The proposed 2018 Budget contains a 1.8 percent increase from the previous year (2017) budget.

Johnson agreed with the spending being unsustainable. He remarked, “It’s a question I asked a year ago with several departments: when are we ever going to start being able to scale back?”

Johnson then added, “My experience here in five years, once anyone gets it in their budget, we never see it again. It’s very rare that we have decreases in these budgets.”

Before passing the final 2018 budget, Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee expressed his thoughts on Magistrate Judge Brian Jones’ request to review the salary line item of his department.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County Board of Commissioners, Chairman Stan Helton, Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson, Post Two Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee, Financial Director Robin Gazaway, Magistrate Judge Brian Jones, Magistrate Court, Public Woks Director, Zack Ratcliff, Board of Assessors, Tax Assessors, 2018 Budget, Public Hearing, Public Workshop

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson discussing his views on voting for total budget.

Sosebee stated he had contacted Gazaway previously to discuss his views on the matter. Sosebee said to the board, “Two or three years ago, we went down the same path over an elected official, like Mr. Jones back here, and my opinion is we can’t tell them what to do with their line items. We might can suggest it, but as far as taking it away from them, I don’t feel like it’s necessary that we do that.”

Johnson, who also stated having previously spoken with Gazaway on the matter, agreed with Sosebee, “The problem I have with it is that that means our office is telling another elected official what he’s paying his people.”

Gazaway clarified that the amount Jones was requesting is an 11 percent increase in salaries.

Sosebee replied to the clarification, “When the 11 percent comes out in the paper, Mr. Jones will have to answer to his constituents that voted for him.”

BOC Chairman Stan Helton added his thoughts: “We have tried very hard to keep this salary and wages for all the county at a 2 percent level. When we approve a budget, it’s basically for the next year, but if we’re talking about approving wages and salaries, that’s not just this year, that’s going to be the year after, the year after, the year after. So that one area I do feel that we do have some oversight on.”

Helton then addressed Jones who was present at the meeting: “The overall increase, Judge Jones, for your department is an increase.”

Helton asked for a motion to approve the line item for Magistrate Court salaries as the requested amount versus the commissioners’ recommended amount.

Johnson, unhappy with this motion, commented, “So, we’re going to have to do that for everyone that changed theirs? Since we are making motions for line items and salaries.”

Sosebee agreed that a motion needed to be made to accept the entire budget, including the requested amount from Jones: “We’ll just do the total budget, cause if we start on 1 line item, we need to do them all.”

After a moment Johnson motioned to approve the 2018 budget, Sosebee seconded the motion and the budget was passed unanimously.

Later, Johnson remarked on his decision to approve the Magistrate Court’s requested salary budget: “We don’t control constitutional officers. They control their budget, and they answer to their own voters.”

Judge Jones was pleased with the decision that was made and stated, “I just want to thank the post commissioners. They did what was right.”

 

 

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

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