Blue Ridge, Ga. – The August 11, 2020 runoff is fast approaching and only one seat in Fannin County will be seen on the ballot. That seat is for Fannin County Commission Chairman. Incumbent Stan Helton faces Challenger Jamie Hensley for the Republican nomination.
With no Democratic nomination for the seat, the winner of the August runoff will be the presumed winner of Fannin County’s next Chairman.
FYN sent several questions to both Incumbent Helton and Challenger Hensley, so that voters will know where the two candidates stand on key topics in Fannin County.
SPLOST and tax collections in general are expected to take a hit due to statewide business closures. How do you plan to navigate the areas impacted by less revenue?
Helton – County revenues and SPLOST were down in the latter part of March and April. However, YTD our TOTAL County revenues are down only 2% and LOST & SPLOST collections are actually slightly ahead. We have put a strong emphasis on watching our costs and thru May – the County is actually 8% under budget on expenditures. We are already addressing potential shortfalls by delaying any Capital projects that will not hamper essential services. We also plan to scale back paving this year to about 50% from our previous rate which will keep the Roads and Bridges expenditures to a minimum. That will help protect our SPLOST fund balance.
Hensley – As it stands now there will be State funding cuts that will affect Fannin County, but locally I would need to see the final numbers to make decisions on whether or not steps need to be taken to balance any budget issues. Fannin County has shown to be resilient in the past and right now the economy in our area is demonstrating that resilience again.
Recently the City of Blue Ridge took steps toward annexation of county territory. Would you be for the city expanding its limits?
Helton – The County has not received any official documents from the City of Blue Ridge and the article in the County news organ is all I can respond to. It appears that the primary impact would be to extend City liquor laws into the County without an approved referendum by the voters. I am not in favor of excluding the voters on this important issue and oppose Annexation without a thorough and proper process.
Hensley – At this time, I would not be for the City of Blue Ridge annexing portions of the county. There needs to be planned growth in Fannin County and there needs to be a focus on infrastructure and public services being able to handle the change and growth. I worry that annexation and the large developments that were proposed could negatively impact residents. For example, with property value and taxes. There needs to be citizen input on these major decisions in the county.
Many states and cities are increasing property taxes to make up for lost revenue. Would you be for increasing the millage rate to make up for this lost revenue? If not, how would you manage oversight on property values to ensure that inflation does not occur?
Helton – Raising Millage rates and increasing property taxes is a last resort. With the cooperation of the Chamber , the BOC has voted to raise the Hotel/Motel tax from 5% to 6% which is paid by tourists. Also, continuing to challenge other County offices to find budget savings is another alternative to raising the Millage rate. The Tax Assessors Board and office is responsible for managing the property valuation in Fannin County, not the Board of Commissioners. The continued influx of people that move into Fannin County buying property and building homes will naturally increase values for all property owners.
Hensley – My goal is to keep Fannin County’s Millage rate the lowest in the State of Georgia. That is something that we have been proud of for many years and I would like to continue to maintain this status. Being proactive by looking at the overall county budget and finding ways to save taxpayers’ money within our operations is the action I would take before considering raising the Millage rate.
The purchase of the Whitepath property has been divisive in the community. Do you feel it was a good purchase and how would you move forward with the project?
Helton – It was a GREAT investment for Fannin County and was MANDATED by the voters on the 2016 SPLOST referendum. $3,150,000 was allocated for this goal and we have used $1,300,000 cash out of that fund balance to make this purchase ( which was voted on in an open meeting back in May 2019 ). There is $1,850,000 SPLOST available to repurpose that building and possibly move the library over and double their space from the current crowded location in the Courthouse. This is a great value for the County and is less expensive than building a new Administration Building. The BOC has simply followed through with what the voters already approved in November 2016- – – namely, move the administrative functions out of the crowded Courthouse to improve parking and citizen access. There should be no controversy in doing what the people voted on and mandated.
Hensley – I understand the need for residents to have easier access to Fannin County public services. The current location of the courthouse has issues like parking that poses a problem for many. I do have questions on whether the Whitepath building is the best option to relocate these services. I understand that the building was purchased with SPLOST funds for this specific reason, but would like to propose another option, if possible, to explore. I would like to see the building used to bring industry and jobs back to the county. With the grant that the library received, I would like to look into a stand alone library. Space in the courthouse, as well as parking, would be freed up just by moving the library.
Are there any areas of our local government that you feel need to be looked into and possibly reformed? How would you go about making changes?
Helton – The voters have a chance for reform every four years – – – – it’s called an election and candidates should present their ideas for change or reform to the citizens before the election. Voters can then make their choice on what needs changing. I think Fannin County works pretty well and I don’t support expanding the BOC members or making a change to our type of local government.
Hensley – There are departments within our local government, like any government, that could improve. A way to get these improvements would be to stop using Fannin County as a training facility for workers. When we find quality workers we need to offer competitive wages and benefits to keep these workers here. I would look to make all departments self sufficient by hiring and retaining quality employees.
There is concern of a second wave of Covid-19 hitting in the Fall. What steps would you take for public safety if this were to happen? How do you feel about the county’s response to the first wave in March?
Helton – There have been lessons learned from the Federal Government to the State of Georgia on down to the local level in dealing with this unforeseen pandemic. Fannin County initiated our Health Emergency Declaration Order nine days before the Governor implemented his HEDO. I feel our response was timely and effective in slowing down the COVID – 19 spread by reducing the influx of tourists into Fannin from highly infected areas outside the County. If a second wave hits again the Governor would issue orders that would reimplement his previous HEDO (supercedes County orders ) and we would by law fall under the State decree.
Hensley – Fannin County handled the first wave of Covid-19 very well considering the information that was presented to us at the time. This is completely new territory for everyone. The decisions made during March laid the groundwork for how to tackle similar situations in the future. If there were further outbreaks causing a need for action, I would use the guidelines and recommendations given by the State and the CDC, along with common sense, to form a plan of action for our county.
What personal qualities do you feel sets you apart from your opponent? Why do you feel like you are the better person for the job?
Helton – I have a BBA Degree from the University of Georgia and thirty five years running large business during my Oil Industry career. I’m an ACCG Certified County Commissioner and have the experience to run a $28.5 million dollar County budget. I’m willing to make tough decisions that benefit the citizens and not special interests that are moving here or are already part of the establishment. I am the only candidate that has NOT accepted any donations , and not compromised by nepotism or favoritism.
Hensley – I have served the public for over 30 years operating a business. I am a citizen of Fannin County like everyone else. Over the years I have listened to the good and I have listened to the bad, and as Chairman, I will continue to listen and to get out and interact with residents. I want to unite and to move forward on common ground and I will do this by listening to and working with the people. I know that not every decision can make everyone happy, but I will always do my best to make the right decision.
***NOTE regarding the upcoming runoff***
Early voting will begin July 20th and end on August 7th
Hours : 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday
Location: Fannin County Board of Registration and Elections, 400 West Main St., Suite 301.
The Board of Registration and Elections will be practicing social distancing, have a sanitizing table set up and will also be sanitizing the office and voting equipment throughout the day.
All Precincts will be open on August 11, 2020 7:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. Social distancing and sanitizing will be observed in all Precincts.
If you voted in the June 9, 2020 General Primary, you must vote the same ballot style you selected then, with the exception of Nonpartisan. Nonpartisan will be allowed to select either party’s ballot style.
If you did not vote in the June 9, 2020 General Primary then either ballot style can be chosen.
The Board of Registration and Elections are accepting ballot applications, as well as poll worker applications . If anyone has any questions please call 706-632-7740.