BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) received updates from several departments at the second monthly meeting held on Jan. 23.
The first to speak to the board was Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff. Ratcliff spoke of the recent severe weather experienced throughout the county and the impact on the county’s resources reserved for such scenarios.
“With temperatures being in the low teens, it made it pretty difficult to clear the roads,” Ratcliff spoke of the recent snow storm that closed county offices and Fannin County schools for several days.
Due to the recent freezing weather, Ratcliff reported that his department had used 300 tons of salt and 150 tons of the 89 gravel that the county had set aside, and that supplies of these would need to be replenished.
Ratcliff also reported that two vehicles in the Public Works department, a chipper and a Ford flatbed, were in need of repairs and would possibly have to be replaced in the near future.
“Our sign department made and replaced over 400 signs, street signs, this year.” Ratcliff updated.
Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee questioned the cost of replacing signs, and Ratcliff replied that it varied but the approximate cost was around $35.00 per sign. Ratcliff also stated the department was increasing the height of many signs posted and this action had reduced the number of signs being stolen.
Ratcliff spoke of cuts made to the department and highlighted that salaries had been brought down by $500,000 from the previous fiscal year of 2016. Ratcliff added, “We’re still getting the same amount of work done.”
Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton addressed Ratcliff, “Just to reiterate what you’ve done here, if you go back a year ago, personnel wise and wages, you cut that in excess of 25 percent, and you’ve done it the right way.
“What I see is more efficiency out there,” Helton added. “The folks that say you can’t shrink government, well you prove that you can.”
Eddie O’Neal, director of Fannin County Parks and Recreation, was second to update the BOC. O’Neal reported that 1,600 visitors had signed in and made use of the recreation facilities in the month of December.
“We also hosted our third annual Christmas Clash basketball tournament where we had 52 teams compete,” O’Neal spoke of the growth of this event.
Teams came from several counties within Georgia for this four-day event. O’Neal informed the board that the success of this event had generated nearly $15,000 in revenue.
O’Neal also spoke of the Summer Day Camp program, which continues to grow, and of additional services that might be offered this year. Parents who utilize the program have inquired of a later pick-up time.
Currently, children in the program would need to be picked up by 3 p.m. O’Neal suggested an extra charge to cover costs of keeping the facility open later so parents could pick up at 4 or 5 p.m.
The cost for two weeks of the Summer Day Camp program is $30.00, and an extra charge of $20.00 is being proposed for parents who wish to have a later pick up.
Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson was pleased with the transparency of revenues and purchases that is now being shown in frequent reports from the Parks and Recreation department, and Stan Helton added that he had received numerous calls from citizens that expressed their enthusiasm for the programs that the department has been adding.
“We’ve been approached by Faith Presbyterian Church. Those guys have always done what’s called a Seamless Summer food program,” O’Neal added to his update.
The Seamless Summer program provides food for children in need over the summer. Union County High School would prep meals for this program in the past, but will not be able to in 2018 due to renovations taking place over the summer break.
The department of Parks and Recreation has been approached to see if they could prep these meals while prepping their own meals for the Summer Day Camp program.
“We would like to help these guys out,” O’Neal went on. The program feeds a little over 200 kids during the summer and is funded via reimbursement from Bright from the Start, a Georgia state Department of Early Care and Learning.
No decision was made by the BOC regarding this proposal.
Chief Land Development Officer Marie Woody notified the BOC that the Scrap Tire Removal Program has been a success and that the future dates scheduled for tire drop off have been cancelled.
“We took over 6,000 tires in,” Woody spoke of the success of the program and adding, “We’ve expended our funds.”
Board of Assessors board member Troy Junnier spoke on behalf of the Tax Assessors Office asking for two replacement vehicles for the department.
“If you don’t allow us to get two more (vehicles), then it is going to cause us a big issue countywide,” Junnier stated, presenting his case to the board. “It’s going to cost all the county residents in the future higher taxes anyway.”
Discussions became heated as Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson expressed that the department does not need new vehicles and should look into buying used.
Ultimately the board agreed to consider purchasing two used vehicles for the department with a spending limit of $20,000 per vehicle.
Johnson ended the exchange, “When I get done with these vehicles, I don’t want to hear anything from the tax assessors (about vehicles) ever again for my remaining three years.”
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Dangerous arctic air has moved into Fannin County following the cold front that brought with it Winter Storm Inga.
As the day progressed roads have cleared of the icy conditions that caused treacherous travel situations throughout north Georgia.
Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff updated FetchYourNews about road conditions in Fannin County: “The main roads have cleared up, but there are still some trouble areas on them. Secondary and dirt roads are still really bad.”
“The high today was only 17 degrees, so the secondary roads got very little thaw. A lot of them have shaded areas,” Ratcliff explained.
The concern going into tonight and the early morning hours tomorrow is black ice. “All that has melted and not dried will refreeze. The temperatures will be in the low teens,” Ratcliff stated.
Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham also expressed concern over black ice forming: “More than likely overnight we will have more than a few areas where patches of black ice will form.”
Graham did want to thank the residents of Fannin County for using caution when getting out on the roadways today. “We’ve had a couple of fender benders, but that’s it. We’ve had a lot fewer 911 calls than expected in conditions like this.”
Employees of the Public Works Department will be working late into the evening to help clear roads for emergency vehicles as the need arises.
The State of Emergency declared by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal remains in effect for Thursday, Jan. 18. The State of Emergency was declared for 83 counties, including Fannin County. It states that state government offices will remain closed. This comes on a recommendation from the state Emergency Operations Command.
Deal stated, “Our top priority is to ensure the safety of Georgians and to allow the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to continue doing its job.”
There are currently no shelters open at this time in Fannin County. If you are in need of assistance and it is not a life-threatening emergency, you can call the Fannin County Sheriff’s Office non-emergency line at 706-632-6022 or 706-632-2043. All life-threatening emergency calls should be placed to 911.
***UPDATED JAN. 17, 10:42 p.m.***
***OPENING LATE JAN. 17***
City of Blue Ridge Government Offices will open at 10 a.m.
Fannin County Government Offices will open at 10 a.m.
Fannin County Health Department will open at noon
***CLOSED JAN. 17***
Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association (The Art Center)
Fannin County Division of Family and Children Services (DFACS)
Fannin County Magistrate Court
Fannin County Schools (12-month personnel may be asked to report later in the day)
- Blue Ridge Elementary School
- East Fannin Elementary School
- Fannin County High School
- Fannin County Middle School
- West Fannin Elementary School
***LATEST WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY***
Wind Chill Advisory until 10:00AM Thursday
…WIND CHILL ADVISORY NOW IN EFFECT UNTIL 10 AM EST THURSDAY… …WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY NOW IN EFFECT UNTIL 9 AM EST THIS MORNING…
* WHAT…Occasional light snow and very cold wind chills expected. Little or no additional accumulations are expected. Expect wind chills to range from 10 above zero to 10 below zero.
* WHERE…Fannin, Gilmer, Union, Towns, Pickens, Dawson, Lumpkin, and White Counties
* WHEN…For the Winter Weather Advisory, until 9 AM this morning. For the Wind Chill Advisory, until 10 AM Thursday.
* ADDITIONAL DETAILS…Roads will remain icy and treacherous as temperatures remain below freezing all day. If you must drive, use extreme caution. The cold wind chills may cause frostbite in as little as 30 minutes to exposed skin.
PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS… A Winter Weather Advisory for snow means periods of snow will cause primarily travel difficulties. Be prepared for snow covered roads and limited visibilities, and use caution while driving. A Wind Chill Advisory means that cold air and the wind will combine to create low wind chills. Frost bite and hypothermia can occur if precautions are not taken. Make sure you wear a hat and gloves.
* AFFECTED AREAS: DAWSON … FANNIN … GILMER … LUMPKIN … PICKENS … TOWNS … UNION … WHITE
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Winter Storm Inga is passing through Fannin County and with it is uncertainty as what to expect.
The latest winter weather advisory from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) remains in effect until 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16, and a wind chill advisory is in effect for our area until 8 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 17.
…WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY NOW IN EFFECT UNTIL 10 AM EST WEDNESDAY… …WIND CHILL ADVISORY REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM 9 PM THIS EVENING TO 8 AM EST THURSDAY…
* WHAT…Snow occurring. Very cold wind chills expected. Plan on difficult travel conditions. Snow accumulations of up to two inches are expected. Expect wind chills to range from zero to 10 below zero.
* WHERE…Fannin, Gilmer, Union, Towns and Pickens Counties.
* WHEN…For the Winter Weather Advisory, until 10 AM EST Wednesday. For the Wind Chill Advisory, from 9 PM this evening to 8 AM EST Thursday.
* WINDS…Winds will become strong and gusty Wednesday with northwest winds of 15 to 25 mph gusting to 25 to 30 mph. A Wind Advisory may be needed for Wednesday.
* ADDITIONAL DETAILS…Be prepared for reduced visibilities at times. The cold wind chills will cause frostbite in as little as 30 minutes to exposed skin. PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS… A Winter Weather Advisory for snow means periods of snow will cause primarily travel difficulties. Be prepared for snow covered roads and limited visibilities, and use caution while driving. A Wind Chill Advisory means that cold air and the wind will combine to create low wind chills. Frostbite and hypothermia can occur if precautions are not taken. Make sure you wear a hat and gloves.
* AFFECTED AREAS: FANNIN … GILMER … PICKENS … TOWNS … UNION
Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham spoke about Inga’s potential impact on our area: “Right now, all that has fallen is melting. We are really concerned about icing overnight.”
Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff confirmed this thought, “Icing is going to be a big threat.”
Ratcliff did state that road crews are already out treating known problem areas of the county: “We are spread throughout the county right now treating hills, curves, and known shady spots.”
“We will work as late as we can, but when temperatures get down in the teens and freezing takes place, there isn’t much more we can do as far as pretreating,” Ratcliff spoke of the county’s plan to fight the effects of Winter Storm Inga.
Ratcliff added, “We will be back out in the morning to continue treatment, and my crews are ready.”
The county currently has approximately 300 tons of salt on hand for road treatment, as well as five salt trucks with plows and four pickup trucks with salt spreaders.
Graham explained that models with this system are constantly being updated, “Currently, it shows a possible two inches of snow in some areas.”
Graham urges drivers to use precaution while on the roadways, and as temperatures fall over night, to only travel if absolutely necessary.
There are currently no shelters open at this time in Fannin County. If you are in need of assistance and it is not a life- threatening emergency, you can call the Fannin County Sheriff’s Office non-emergency line at 706-632-6022 or 706-632-2043. All life-threatening emergency calls should be placed to 911.
Follow FetchYourNews for the latest on Winter Storm Inga, including closings and delays in our area.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Snow continues to fall on Fannin County as Winter Storm Benji makes its way out of our region. Residents around the county have reported anywhere from five to eight inches of snow, some reporting more in localized areas.
Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham says that we are in for more snowfall through the evening hours. Graham stated, “Forecasts are showing an additional one to three inches for our area.”
Power outages have been reported throughout the county today, and crews are working on restoring power to those without. Graham stated of the outages, “Several are out on the eastern side of our county, and up in the Dial area.”
Going into the night power outages and refreezing of roadways are of major concern. The roads cleared some today as temperatures slowly crept above freezing, but without wind or the sun to dry the roadways the water left behind is likely to turn into ice.
Director of Public Works Zack Ratcliff released a statement that he is expecting conditions to worsen as a significant refreeze with black ice will likely occur after dark as temperatures begin to fall into the 20s.
Ratcliff has six trucks dispatched throughout the county putting down salt and gravel mix to treat the roads, and three motor graders have been out working in locations such as Aska Road, Old Hwy. 76, and the Mobile and Madola roads area.
EMA Director Robert Graham is now urging residents, “Please stay off the roads tonight, unless you absolutely need to get out. Try to stay put in the morning as well. After about 10 or 11 a.m. tomorrow, we hope the temperatures will get back up and melt some of this off.”
Fannin County Fire and Rescue Chief and EMA Deputy Director Larry Thomas spoke with FetchYourNews about area roadways and conditions. Thomas confirmed that his department has already responded to several calls today. Many of these calls involved stranded motorists and residents.
While some could not avoid getting out today, many citizens chose to prepare and stay indoors. Fannin County resident Glenda Higdon spoke of her preparation, “So far so good here. We are gathering water, charging phones and phone banks, brought in another load of wood and cooking food up. We have a wood heater, heat pumps and a generator.”
Higdon added with a smile, “We also have a bobcat, tractor, battery chargers, as well! My hubby is a Vietnam Veteran and is not about to get stuck anywhere!”
“We’re both locals so when the blizzard came in 1993, (we) learned a lot about being prepared then (the hard way),” Higdon explained.
Whether prepared or not Winter Storm Benji has left its mark on the north Georgia mountains, and its effects will continue to be experienced in our area for the next couple of days.
Follow FetchYourNews for the latest information about Winter Storm Benji in our area.