BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Residents may have noticed a change to the speed limit on Old Hwy. 76 this week. The Board of Commissioners (BOC) discussed an increase in the limit at the Nov. 28 meeting.
“It’s kind of convoluted, but going east on 76, from downtown to Marina Drive, that’s the city of Blue Ridge, and then it becomes the county’s responsibility from Marina Drive out to the Lakewood intersection where Hwy. 60 comes in,” Fannin County BOC Chairman Stan Helton clarified as to which entities are accountable for maintenance and regulations along Old Hwy. 76.
Helton went on to say, “And then that’s state responsibility from Lakewood intersection all the way out to where 60 (state Route 60) turns south on Morganton headed towards Suches. And then from that point going on east towards Union County, that’s the county’s responsibility again.”
From Union County to the Lakewood intersection, the highway has a constant speed limit of 45 mph. From the Lakewood intersection to Marina Drive, the speed limit drops to 35 mph.
The change in speed limit will not affect the current speed limit at Blue Ridge Dam and along Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) property. The speed limit will still remain at 35 mph in that area.
After receiving calls from various citizens wanting to raise the speed limit in this area, Helton brought the issue to the attention of the board. Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson and Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee agreed that bringing uniformity to the speed limit would be a positive.
Johnson deferred to Fannin County Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff to get his opinion on the proposed change.
Ratcliff pointed out that the current speed limit causes a bottleneck on that section of road and added, “I recommend that we at least do something to improve that area. I think it would help. That’s pretty slow going across there if you abide by that speed limit.”
Johnson agreed, “It does kind of bottleneck down there. There are still some law-abiding citizens left and that is too slow.”
Sosebee asked Ratcliff if the change would alleviate that issue, to which Ratcliff replied, “It used to be that (45 mph). It actually used to be that. TVA did work on the dam, and they reduced all the speed through there because they were doing the work, and it never got bumped back up.”
BOC Chairman Helton made a motion to raise the speed limit from Marina Drive to the Lakewood intersection (excluding the dam and the area along TVA property) to 45 mph. Johnson seconded the motion, and it was passed unanimously by all three commissioners.
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The Board of Commissioners had a moment of well-earned pride at the August 23rd meeting when they discussed the 2016 millage rate, which is 16.984 mills, with 4.604 being the county tax and 12.380 being the school tax. With the new rate, a $150,000 house would cost $1,019 in property taxes. (Georgia assesses property values at 40% of the fair market value.)
Post-Commissioner Earl Johnson said that he believes Fannin County still has the cheapest millage rate in Georgia. Indeed, a check on the Georgia Department of Revenue shows that Fannin County’s rate, at 16.984 is about 43% less than Georgia’s average county millage rate of 30 mills. Mr. Johnson said that Fannin’s low millage rate draws retirees to live in Fannin County.
Chairman Bill Simonds said he would hate to be at the Commissioners meeting in a neighboring county when the Commissioners had to tell residents that their millage rate was increasing by 11.266 mills on top of what property owners already pay.
John Drullinger of Fannin Animal Control gave a report about the dogs at the facility. Right now, the facility houses 27 dogs. Several of these can’t be placed in homes. Post-Commissioner Sosebee asked if one of the dogs is “Flesh Eater,” a dog which has been at animal control more than a year. “Flesh Eater” has such a dangerous temperament that he tries to attack through the wire cage. “Flesh Eater” and similar dogs pose a growing problem for Animal Control. Since Animal Control is a no-kill facility, the number of aggressive, not able to rehabilitate dogs they must house will keep growing. The total amount of dogs Animal Control takes in is growing as well. So far this year, it has brought in 221 dogs. Last year at this time, it was only 202. Mr. Drullinger told the Commissioners that more people in the county need to be using low-cost spay and neuter programs.
The resignation of Kristen Stone as Assistant Finance Administrator to the county set off a tirade against the county hiring family members of other people. It seems that before Ms. Stone turned in her resignation there was already movement to hire the wife of a Sheriff’s Office investigator to fill her position. Mr. Sosebee asked Rita Davis Kirby, who will be the new hire’s boss, if she had spoken to this woman. Ms. Kirby replied yes and that she has spoken to others as well.
Mr. Sosebee clearly said that he didn’t want anyone else coming out of the Sheriff’s Office that would be dealing with the county’s finances. Ms. Davis Kirby is the county’s Finance Director and her husband, Dane Kirby is Sheriff.
After Ms. Davis Kirby and Mr. Simonds assured Mr. Sosebee that the position has been advertised in the newspaper, Mr. Sosebee said the new hire needs to be someone with good qualifications who isn’t friends with nobody.
That’s what it needs to come down to… This brother, sister, mom, friend, whoever, that’s got to stop. Somewhere down the road that’s got to come to an end.”
In his time as Commissioner, Mr. Sosebee has taken initiatives to change personnel policies in the county so that they are more transparent.
Mr. Johnson supported Mr. Sosebee’s statements. He said, “We had this conversation in your office last week Ms. Kirby. We have to stop hiring family in this courthouse. There’s too much. There’s too much in the road department. There’s too much here. There’s too much everywhere… Next thing you know there is one family running in every department of the courthouse.” Mr. Johnson told everyone this is the first time in a long time that a county government position is being advertised. He finished with, “ I hope that we absolutely hire no more family in our government.”
In other news from the Board of Commissioners meeting:
Marie Woody, Chief Land Development Officer brought seven properties that should be condemned before the Commissioners. Ms. Woody said that some of these properties had five or six complaints lodged against them. Mr. Johnson replied once the Commissioners start looking into this, there are properties all over the county in the same condition. Mr. Sosebee agreed that there is a “smorgasbord of problems”. Mr. Johnson told Ms. Woody that the Commissioners will take the information under advisement and will return to it later.
Fannin EMA will now have three ATVs to assist them in trail rescues. One ATV is also amphibious. Much of the money to purchase the ATVs came from a Homeland Security Grant. EMA also received $15,000 in federal money to purchase weather radios for Fannin residents living in flood prone areas.
The Rec Department was hit with questions of mismanagement by the Commissioners and two Fannin residents. (see”Rocky Times for Road and Rec Departments“) The Commissioners decided that the large house at the center of the Tom Boyd Complex will become storage and Rec Department offices.
Mr. Johnson chastised the Road Department for failing to show up at yet another Board of Commissioners meeting and the department acting like it is not its duty to inform the Commissioners and the county about what road maintenance is happening.
Nicole Potzauf of the Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association announced that Blue Ridge was voted #6 in the list of “Top Ten Craft Cities in the United States” , beating out Asheville.
The County got an update about potential uses for the TVA property next to the dam. There is some discussion of TVA helping renovate the houses and putting in a fishing pier. DNR is looking at a boat house for law enforcement purposes.
The Commissioners approved Project Chimps application to house 80 chimpanzees at their sanctuary. (see “Commissioners Give Green Light to Project Chimps“)
In Public Commentary, Marcela Olsteen wanted to know why Chairman Simonds had called County Attorney Lynn Doss a flat-out liar in a taped deposition and why she is still County Attorney if he feels that way. Ms. Olsteen also stated that Ms. Doss’ salary seems out of line.
Joe Webb made an Open Records request for the general description, function, size and cost of each project the county has set forth on the SPLOST 2016 ballot. Mr. Webb reminded them that Georgia law requires a list of specifically described projects, the estimated cost of each and the time line for completion for a project to appear on the SPLOST ballot. The current SPLOST ballot does not have this specificity. (see “Commissioners Avoid Required Transparency in Setting SPLOST)
Henry Mallard of Cutcane Road appeared before the Commissioners to ask once again that they do something about 48 plus dogs at a house on Cutcane. This is the third time since January Mr. Mallard has appeared before the Commissioners asking for action. “Gentlemen, I’m begging for help,” he said.
In May, the Fannin County Recreation Department joined Fannin County Chamber of Commerce
“We’re not the one-dimensional rec department,” says John Scalera, Director of Fannin County Recreation Department when describing his vision for the Recreation Department. Mr. Scalera took over leadership of the Recreation Department in October 2015.
Mr. Scalera has set up two new camps for Fannin youth this summer – Fishing Camp and Waterlogged Camp. This year, each camp is only offered one time. If all goes well, Mr. Scalera hopes to have more than one session in the upcoming years.
Fishing Camp is for ages 8-14 and will take place June 13-17. The cost is $75. At this camp, would-be fishermen will learn more than just putting bait on hooks. They will learn about fishing in different Fannin county waterways, fishing techniques for different kinds of fish and how to treat fish from catching to eating. Campers will visit the fish hatchery in Suches, Horseshoe Bend and Tammen Parks as well as fishing in the pond and creek on the Recreation Complex Land. Campers top off their fishing knowledge with a fish-fry.
Waterlogged Camp is the other new camp for this summer. The camp is for 8-14 year olds and will take place June 27 to July 1. The cost is $100 . Campers will visit types of water recreation facilities like the Cherokee Aquatic Center, Lake Winey in Chattanooga, Toccoa Family Campground, and go to Helen for tubing. Teaching swimming is not the purpose of the camp, learning new ways to enjoy water is the purpose. Mr. Scalera says that campers should come with some knowledge of swimming, but don’t they don’t have to worry if they are beginner swimmers since the activities are not about learning to swim but about enjoying different types of water activities.
In addition to the new camps, the Recreation Department will also hold their traditional one-week sport specific camps. This summer the camps are soccer, baseball and basketball. Parents can call the Rec Department at 706-946-1130 for more information. Neither Waterlogged Camp or Fishing Camp currently offers scholarships. However, the Fannin County Recreation Department does offer scholarships for its youth athletic programs.
Another multi-dimensional project the Recreation Department is pursuing boat ramps for the Toccoa River. The Recreation Department is working on along with Fannin County Land Development Authority and TVA. The proposed boat ramps would be at Tammen Park, Curtis Switch and potentially Horseshoe Bend. The ramps would be for kayaks and drift boats. TVA would be installing the ramps and Fannin County would be responsible for their upkeep. An encouraging sign for the future success of the ramps is that TVA is donating $15,000 worth of animal-proof trash cans to the Recreation Department to place in parks alongside the Toccoa.
When will the Blue Ridge dam project be complete? (more…)
Was Ninth District Democratic Candidate Jody Cooley’s presence at last week’s forum a distraction? (more…)