Tax Assessors are not working overtime without pay

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Comments made at a recent Fannin County Board of Assessors meeting led to misinformation being spread throughout the public about county employees having to work overtime without pay.

Fannin County Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran clarifies that none of her employees are working this overtime without pay and that her comments were misunderstood.

“No,” Cochran gave a simple answer when asked directly if the rumors were true and went on to explain where the misunderstanding of words had taken place.

Until recently, some employees of the office would arrive to work early and clock-in, but would focus on personal ventures rather than work related to the department.

These employees had never been paid for this time, according to Cochran, but it made for confusion in looking at time sheets.

“We made some changes. Lynn Doss gave us advisement and said what we would like for you to do is not let anybody clock in until 8 o’clock and don’t let anybody clock out until 5 o’clock” Cochran said of steps that have been taken to alleviate the confusion.

Cochran added, “If you’re here and you’re having your coffee, or your making your toast back there, do not clock in because it could be misconstrued.”

The Tax Assessor’s office has been able to move forward despite the reorganization of the department. The work of the department from Jan. 1 of this year to present has accounted for almost quarter of all site visits since 2018.

From 2018 to current the department has made 8,289 site visits, with 2,193 of these visits being completed in 2019.

The department has also handled 233 Conservation applications or inquiries and have processed 241 Homesteads.

Cochran updated the board on the changes made to job descriptions of each of the employees and the responsibilities that have been shuffled throughout the department, stating that there has been “a lot of give and take” and adding “everyone is working very good together”.

The department is on track to continue its appraisal process through a three year cycle, and Cochran noted that because of the hard work of her employees the process of building schedules is becoming easier.

“I’m very impressed with the staff and how they are doing under a stressful environment. They are doing fabulous,” Cochran said after informing the board that when she took over some schedule ratings were as low as 18 and through the work of her staff the ratings are now starting at 37.

Cochran updated that the transition in mapping has had some bumps in the road, with Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS) now handling mapping and rural land schedules, but her department working with the company to smooth out the process.

While there is still concern over workload within the department, Cochran stated of her concerns and her staff, “Every time I say that, they make it work. They pull it off.”

The Tax Assessor’s Office is expected to mail notices on June 14 and will continue to update on work status at the regularly scheduled monthly meetings.

 

 

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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Compromise reached on Tax Assessors budget

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Talks surrounding the 2019 Tax Assessor budget continued at Tuesday evening’s Board of Commissioner (BOC) meeting, and for the time being a compromise was met between the BOC and the Board of Assessors (BOA).

Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Board of Tax Assessors, Tax Assessors, Chier Appraiser, GMASS, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Dawn Cochran, Janie Bearden, Troy Junnier, Mark Henson, Anthony Holloway, Angelina Powell, 2019 Budget, Consent, Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services

The Board of Commissioners look over numbers for the proposed Tax Assessor budget.

A tentative budget of $633,493 was passed for the Tax Assessors department in Dec. of 2018. This budget included $223,000 for a contract with Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS) to help conduct appraisals in Fannin County and to remain in compliance with the state of Georgia.

After budget cuts within the department, Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran presented a counter-proposal  to the BOC in the amount of $683,209.22, roughly a $50,000 difference from the already approved budget.

The newly requested budget from Cochran only set aside $28,800 for services provided by GMASS. This amount includes two contracts in which the BOA would like to enter with GMASS.

The first of these contracts would be for rural land revaluation. “The total for that is approximately $18,300,” Cochran said explaining the breakdown of the two contracts, “and the reason that we have to have an approximate is the timber land reviews is based off of sales.”

The second contract in the amount of $10,500 would be for mapping. Recently, the BOA voted to restructure the GIS (Geographic Information System) department, in an attempt to decrease the overall budget. This move resulted in the loss of an employee.

All three county commissioners voted in favor of entering into these two contracts with GMASS.

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton who previously stated, “I was elected to look after the taxpayers dollars and I’m not going to back off of challenging any department if I feel like we’ve got ways to improve and bring greater value to the tax paying citizens of the county. They deserve that and that’s what they’re going to get,” held true to his word.

Helton noted that the difference between the initial monies set aside for GMASS assistance and the monies needed for the two contracts would be approximately $194,200. He recommended moving that difference to the departments salaries and benefits without increasing the budget.

“We could cut the budget further,” Helton spoke of voting to amend certain line items, “or we could reapply that to other line items, which I would make the assumption that you would want to apply that back to employee benefits, salaries and social security.”

Cochran and newly appointed BOA chairman Troy Junnier argued that this amount would not be enough to cover all salaries and that further employees would have to be cut.

“We’re down from 15 to 11,” Cochran stated of the current number of employees, and went further to say that without the extra $50,000 requested two to three employees could lose employment.

“What we see here is a trend that it is improving,” speaking of the Tax Assessor’s proposed budget, Post 2 Commissioner Glenn Patterson added, “Budget cuts are always difficult and we can see there that they are trying.You can look at Ms. Cochran’s budget and she’s not spent all of her budget.”

Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Board of Tax Assessors, Tax Assessors, Chier Appraiser, GMASS, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Dawn Cochran, Janie Bearden, Troy Junnier, Mark Henson, Anthony Holloway, Angelina Powell, 2019 Budget, Consent, Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran goes over GMASS contracts approved by the BOA.

Patterson, showing favor of the amendment, spoke to his fellow commissioners and members of the BOA: “I would like for us to have a better partnership and to have a good working relationship. I feel like in supporting this amendment that it would boost the spirits and morale showing them some support.”

“I’m glad to see some of these numbers coming down,” Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson addressed Cochran and Junnier, “By all of us having a dialogue for the first time in my six years of being here, people on different sides of the coin, at this point, the Tax Assessors Board and the Board of Commissioners, at this point, have somehow or another come up with $200,000 worth of savings in a two month period.”

“I feel like we can get the job done,” Cochran made one last case for the requested amendment, “The $50,000 lies within salaries, so you have employees right now that have been up in the air on whether or not they are going to have their jobs from November to December to January, and it’s really hard to hold a group and keep a team pushing forward under the circumstances.”

After brief discussion Helton reiterated his stance, “Anyway you look at it, it’s (Tax Assessor budget) absolutely the highest than any of the other counties, and I feel very strongly that we’ve got to get that back and I’m prepared to do that.”

Patterson made a motion to approve the amended budget giving the Tax Assessors office the requested $683,209.22. This motion, however, failed due to a lack of a second.

To this, Johnson presented a compromise of approving an extra $25,000 for the budget to meet halfway: “My motion would be that, much to my disagreement with it, I would meet halfway in between, and with that we would relook at it in six months at least.”

“You’re not getting exactly what you want and I’m not getting exactly what I want, but we are meeting in the middle,” Johnson spoke of the compromise. “We’re doing our jobs.”

Johnson’s motion to meet halfway with a total budget of $658,493 was seconded by Patterson, and passed with a two to one vote, with Helton against the increase.

The Board of Assessors have called a meeting to be held Friday, Jan. 11 at 2 p.m.

 

 

 

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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GMASS meets with Board of Assessors to discuss future plans

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Board of Assessors (BOA) called a one-on-one meeting with Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS) to discuss the Tax Assessor’s office and the role that GMASS would potentially play in the future.

GMASS Chief Financial Officer Kristi Reese broke the ice by stating, “I feel like maybe there is some hostility between us because we don’t really know how all of this came about. We did not come into Fannin County with the intent of firing anybody or having anything of that nature done.”

Reese explained that GMASS is simply a company that can assist counties with appraisal work and in no way advocates or is responsible for the removal local office staff: “I do not want our name associated with any of that.”

Members of the BOA acknowledged that what Reese was saying was true and that they value the ongoing working relationship between GMASS and the Fannin County Tax Assessors.

“I think that the commissioners are trying to force something that they don’t truly understand every part, ” BOA board member Troy Junnier replied to Reese, “I think they are looking at just the money. They are not looking at everything that goes into that.”

Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Board of Tax Assessors, Tax Assessors, Chier Appraiser, Land Development, GMASS, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Dawn Cochran, Janie Bearden, Troy Junnier, Mark Henson, Anthony Holloway, Angelina Powell, Marie Woody, Kristi Reece, Budget, Consent, Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services

The Board of Assessors sits down with representatives from GMASS to work out future plans for the Tax Assessor’s office.

Fannin County Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran added, “I personally know what it takes to run this office. The commissioners do not know what it takes to run this office. GMASS knows what it takes to do their part but does not know what it takes to do our county with our circumstances.”

The Board of Commissioners did make initial contact with GMASS requesting a bid for appraisal and maintenance services. This contact came about due to an inability for an agreement to be made regarding the budget of the Tax Assessor’s office.

Cochran stated bluntly of the move to hire GMASS, “In order for you all to come in and do your work, people would have to lose their jobs.”

Cochran explained that when Fannin County came under consent from the state of Georgia for not complying with regulations that the county opted then to fully staff the department instead of using GMASS at that time.

Now that the county is out from under the consent order Cochran added, “The timing of this is kind of a gut punch.”

Cochran acknowledged that the department has fallen a bit behind: “The Board of Assessors choose quality over quantity. So it has taken a little longer than expected.” She reasoned that the blame fell on the amount of work it took to come into compliance and the set back of her department not having enough vehicles to do this work.

“I feel like the commissioners are going to go forward with their budget cuts regardless of what we do here,” Reece stated of the direction of the BOA’s conversation. “I understand your concerns, but we don’t have control over anything at this point. We are just here to meet with you and calm some of your fears.”

Eventually the discussion veered toward what GMASS is able to provide the county. Cochran questioned GMASS of several areas including insurance, workload, and customer service.

Through this series of questions GMASS answered that they would be responsible for field appraisals and would complete one third of the county’s parcels each year keeping in compliance with state law.

Reece answered all questions leaving little doubt that GMASS is fully capable of completing their obligation as well as working side by side with the Tax Assessor’s office.

GMASS would essentially streamline the appraisal process, and Reece explained that this is because GMASS has staff to focus in specific areas. This is in contrast to the current staffing in most counties where appraisers must multitask in several areas.

Concern was expressed about customer service being provided, to which Reece replied that a GMASS representative would be happy to meet in person or discuss via phone with any taxpayer who has a question about their appraisal.

No action was taken at this meeting by the BOA regarding staffing of the office. Discussions are expected to continue at the next meeting to be held on Thursday, Dec. 13. The BOA and Board of Commissioners previously agreed to come to terms with a budget for 2019 by the end of this year.

 

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

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GMASS will not take over the tax assessors office

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The question was directly asked and was in turn directly answered. Will Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS) take over the Fannin County Tax Assessors Office and the answer is no.

The budget of the tax assessors office made a large increase when it was found that Fannin County was not in compliance with state law. Being under a consent order from the state of Georgia, the county raised this budget as well as the number of employees to bring the department back into compliance.

Now that Fannin County is officially out from under the order of consent, the budget of the department has been an issue for both the Board of Assessors (BOA) and the Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC).

Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Board of Tax Assessors, Tax Assessors, Chier Appraiser, Land Development, GMASS, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Dawn Cochran, Janie Bearden, Troy Junnier, Mark Henson, Anthony Holloway, Angelina Powell, Marie Woody, Kristi Reece, Budget, Consent

GMASS has currently worked with over 80 counties in the state of Georgia.

What has been a back and forth match between the BOA and the BOC came to head with a special called meeting held on Monday, Nov. 19. This public meeting was an opportunity for the two boards to sit down with each and with representatives from GMASS to discuss and move forward with a solution.

The possibility of GMASS working with the county was initially proposed in June of this year, and while it does have the potential to save Fannin County taxpayers several hundred thousands of dollars, it was met with opposition as this would mean a downsize of the tax assessors office.

Tensions were high in the room due to the nature of the meeting as well as false rumors being spread via social media about the proposition ‘being pushed through and voted on that night’.

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton presented the room with a presentation of the direct comparison of Fannin County to nine surrounding counties in regards to the budget of this department.

It was found that Fannin County’s budget in this area was $968,265 in comparison to the average of the surrounding counties at $575,726.44.

“The point I am trying to make here, take the emotion out of this. I understand what we are talking about here, this is a difficult thing to address,” Helton said of his desire to bring the budget more in line with surrounding counties. “My whole career has been in running business and that’s what Fannin County is. It is a business. It’s a $27.5 million per year business. I am not remiss at all in asking every department to step up to the challenge and produce the best value products.”

Representatives from GMASS were also present to tell about their business, explain the role they would play in Fannin County and answer any questions from the BOA and BOC.

Shortly after the GMASS presentation, in which they demonstrated their ability and capability to streamline the appraisal process, questions from the BOA began with board member Troy Junnier being most vocal.

Junnier expressed his concerns over staffing and finally asked the question that was on many minds, will GMASS replace the tax assessors office in Fannin County.

Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Board of Tax Assessors, Tax Assessors, Chier Appraiser, Land Development, GMASS, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Dawn Cochran, Janie Bearden, Troy Junnier, Mark Henson, Anthony Holloway, Angelina Powell, Marie Woody, Kristi Reece, Budget, Consent

Tension was high as the three parties worked towards a solution.

“The purpose of the proposal that we have given the county is not to take over the tax assessors office. That’s not our intent. That’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to lend a hand to the tax assessors office and try cutting the budget at the same time,” Kristi Reese Chief Financial Officer for Gmass replied to Junier, adding, “We would work side by side with the tax assessors office. Not a come in and take over type of deal at all.”

Fannin County Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran questioned GMASS on where responsibilities would lie between the two groups.

“All that we are replacing is appraisers out in the field,” Reece replied, “We’re catching you up on your field work and maintaining your schedules.”

Cochran expressed concern that taking the office down to a staff of five which is required by law would create an inability for her staff to provide GMASS with all of the information they would need, and cited her long standing argument that Fannin County is currently experiencing a tremendous amount of growth in comparison to the other surrounding counties.

Fannin County Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson spoke up on this matter and pointed to that fact that the Chief Land Development Officer Marie Woody had spoken at a recent BOC meeting and had confirmed that new development had actually slowed and numbers were down from last year.

Johnson spoke on this issue at hand: “It’s a personal issue to many people. I was elected to handle every dollar of every tax payer frugally. I want to find a way to get back to where we were.”

“We have to take our personalities out of this because this is not our money,” Johnson said of the delicate issue.

Kristi Reece from GMASS added to this, “We don’t go in to alienate. We don’t go in to point fingers. We go in to help the county.”

Dialogue remained heated as Johnson finally stated, “If you all (BOA) can come up with a good reason why you don’t want to save the taxpayers $300,000, I want to hear it right now.”

After a short recess was taken, all parties entered the room willing to take steps to see what could be done to resolve the budget.

Cochran had taken opportunity during recess to approach GMASS about setting up a meeting with just the BOA to further discuss ways in which to incorporate the company. GMASS agreed to this meeting.

Board of Assessors board member Anthony Holloway questioned the BOC: “How much time do we have to make this educated, if we can call it that, decision?”

Commissioners agreed to pass a budget during the timeline required by law (early Dec.) and would later amend the tax assessors portion of the budget once an agreement is made. This would allow the department more time to research what would need to take place between themselves and GMASS.

It was left unclear whether the BOC would adopt the budget requested by the department or adopt a budget based on a five person staff leaving it up to the BOA to come up from the bottom dollar number.

“This is real indicative of how difficult it is to cut government,” Helton said of the tense meeting. “We need to get this resolved before the end of this year.”

Fannin County Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee finally spoke up of his feelings after remaining silent through the duration of the meeting: “I’m all for saving money as well, but I’m not for getting rid of a bunch of employees. It’s kind of hard to do both.”

Helton concluded the meeting by asking the BOA directly, “Are you interested in working with us to save the taxpayer money and get this budget back to where it should be?”

To which all board members, less Junnier who had left after the recess break, agreed that they were willing to work on the matter.

 

 

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

City boards restructuring draws criticism

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – An ordinance to restructure the city’s Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals was approved by the Blue Ridge City Council during its May 8 meeting Tuesday.

Last month, a first reading of the ordinance was presented during the council meeting. As explained then by City Attorney James Balli, the ordinance would condense both the Zoning Board of Appeals and the city Planning Commission from seven members to five members each. Balli further explained each city council member would appoint one member to serve on each board and appointees would be allowed to serve on both boards, if the council member so desired. According to Balli, the ordinance would amend an already established city ordinance to be compliant with the City Charter and state law.

After a second reading this month, the ordinance was approved unanimously. According to Balli, the council’s appointments are Gene Holcombe to serve as Councilwoman Robbie Cornelius’ appointment to both the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals, Cindy Trimble to serve as Councilwoman Rhonda Haight’s appointment on both boards, Mark Engledow and Angelina Powell to serve as Councilman Harold Herndon’s appointments to the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals, respectively, Rick Skelton to serve as Councilman Nathan Fitts’ appointment to both boards, and Thomas Kay and Michael Eaton to serve as Councilman Ken Gaddis’ appointments to the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals, respectively.

At the end of the meeting, Eaton, existing chairman of city Zoning Board of Appeals, spoke to the council concerning the changes to the two boards.

“What I have a problem with is we’ve basically eliminated three positions on the Zoning Board of Appeals tonight for three different people who have put in a lot of time and effort for their part and were not contacted or told any of this was going to happen,” Eaton stated.

“John Soave, Ralph Garner, Brendan Doyle – when are their terms up?” Eaton asked.

To this, Mayor Donna Whitener responded, “Their terms are up as of today.”

“I feel like we’ve all been left in the dark. This has been done very disrespectfully,” Eaton added, saying he was only contacted by Gaddis who notified Eaton he would be the councilman’s appointment. “I think it’s been done very poorly.”

A second reading for an Illumination Ordinance amendment was also presented and approved at this month’s meeting. The ordinance, according to its wording, makes it “unlawful for any person, organization of persons, or entity to willfully tamper with, illegally project light upon, mutilate or deface any City personal or real property, including, without limitation, trees, other plants, buildings, drive-in theaters screens, vehicles or other equipment for lighting, firefighting, police protection or water and sewer installation and maintenance.” First-time violators of the ordinance now face a civil fine of at least $500 and subsequent violations are punishable by a civil fine of at least $500 and up to 90 days in jail.

An amendment to change the rules of procedure at council meetings to allow for more public commentary on action items was approved unanimously by the council. As explained by Balli, the amendment will now allow five sections of public commentary at two minutes per person on a first come, first serve basis for any item requiring a vote from the council. Following the end of the public commentary, the council would then vote on the item. The amendment also allows for individuals to speak on any late additions to the agenda without having to request ahead of time to be on the agenda to speak themselves.

Jeff Stewart, city zoning supervisor, presented bids and estimates for repairs to the roof at City Hall. The council unanimously approved and awarded two bids: one from GoCo for $6,650 for the demolition and removal of the bank drive-through and another from Trademark Coatings for $35,427.50 for the repair of the main roof of the building. According to Trademark’s estimate and scope of work, the cost will include pressure washing and reuse of the existing shingles, which were deemed to still be in good condition, and application of a urethane foam base coat, which is designed to create a seamless roofing system.

The city received $20,165.00 in insurance claims for damage sustained to city hall during a storm in the spring of 2017.

The council unanimously approved an allotment of up to $10,000 for remodel of the city police department building on Church Street. In February, the council approved a previous amount up to $10,000 for needed repairs and renovation of the police department. Mayor Whitener explained after initial work to the building began, further problems and issues were also revealed, but she anticipated that the further work should cost under the additional $10,000.

Police Chief Johnny Scearce stated further repairs and upgrades to the building, built in 1936, will include repairs to a corner of the roof, replacement of gutters and fascia boards, and upgrades to the lights and electrical wiring system. “One thing led into another,” Chief Scearce said of the building renovation.

Replacement of the slide deck at the city pool was discussed after the city received a quote from Miracle Recreation Equipment Company in the amount of $6,009.86 to replace the slide. Councilwoman Rhonda Haight questioned the decision to replace the slide considering the uncertain future of the city pool and potential liability issues with the slide.

“Considering we don’t really know the future of the pool, do we just take it down for right now or spend $6,000?” Haight said. “I would suggest just take the slide out, (because) first of all, (it is) a liability, and second, because we don’t know (the pool’s) future.”

Whitener stated parts to repair the pool thus far for the upcoming season have amounted to under $5,000, which was considerably less than originally anticipated. The mayor seemly advocated for the replacement of the slide stating the slide is heavily used by children at the pool and removal of the slide would require additional concrete work.

“Well, I would have to agree with Rhonda,” Councilman Nathan Fitts said. “To keep spending money with the unknown future of the pool, to me, doesn’t make financial sense.”

After further discussion, the council approved for the slide to be taken down.

In public commentary, Gene Holcombe spoke on behalf of the Blue Ridge Business Association and inquired of the city’s progress with adding downtown public restrooms and parking space. Mayor Whitener told Holcombe Councilman Herndon had recently suggested the idea of building a small restroom unit near the large public parking lot off of Mountain Street as early as this summer using detainee labor and engineering assistance from Councilman Gaddis’ All Choice Plumbing company. As for the parking situation, Whitener told Holcombe the parking study, which was approved in the council’s April meeting, was still in the process of being completed.

After an executive session, Councilwoman Haight made a motion to “resolve a claim involving 0.03 acres with Campbell Camp Investments LLC and to give the mayor authority to sign a quick claim for that property.” After a second from Gaddis, the motion passed unanimously.

The council approved three invoices from the city’s water system engineering firm, Carter & Sloope:

  • In the amount of $13,092.50 for various engineering services, Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) permitting for water line work on state Route 515 near BB&T bank and on state Route 60 in Mineral Bluff and plan reviews of the Fannin County Agriculture and Public Safety Complex buildings;
  • In the amount of $11,639.10 for continued monitoring of metals and temperature at the city’s wastewater treatment facility; and
  • In the amount of $11,363.75 for providing preliminary cost estimates to GDOT for proposed utility relocation along state Route 5 as part of the forthcoming highway expansion.

 

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

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Additional grant pursued for Horseshoe Bend Park

Community, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Fannin County Parks and Recreation Director Eddie O’Neal sought approval from the Board of Commissioners (BOC) at the Feb. 27 meeting to apply for a grant in hopes improving Horseshoe Bend Park.

“We would like to get approval to approach the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC),” O’Neal appealed to the board.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Parks and Recreation, Eddie O'Neal , Board of Commissioners, Chairman Stan Helton, Post 1 Commissioner, Earl Johnson, Post 2 Commissioner, Larry Joe Sosebee, Horseshoe Bend Park, Appalachian Regional Commission, Recreational Trail Grant, Northwest Regional Commission, Tamen Park, mowing contract, Nichole Potzauf, Executive Director of Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association, BRMAA, Youth Art Month, University of North Georgia, Appalachian Studies Program, Blue Ridge Scholars, Board of Assessors, Angelina Powell, Lane Bishop, Fannin County Emergency Management Agency, EMA, Robert Graham, Fannin County Finance Director, Robin Gazaway

A view of the Toccoa River from Horseshoe Bend Park.

This grant is in addition to a state-funded Recreational Trail Grant that the county applied for in 2017. The state-funded grant would provide Fannin County with up to $200,000 and the county would be responsible for 20 percent of the funding ($40,000).

The additional grant would be federally funded and provide Fannin County with up to $300,000. The county would be responsible for 30 percent of this funding ($90,000).

Commission Chairman Stan Helton explained how the information of this new grant came about: “The folks at the Northwest Regional Commission, which are the folks that are conduit for the Recreational Trail Grant called me sometime ago.”

“They felt that the odds (of receiving the ARC grant) were equal to or better (than that of getting the Recreational Trail Grant),” Helton added.

Helton explained that the county would not have to take both grants if both were awarded, but applying for the two grants would improve the county’s odds of getting funding for projects at Horseshoe Bend Park.

The board unanimously voted in favor of applying for this additional grant.

O’Neal updated the BOC on news from the Recreation Department: “Our registration for spring sports is up about 8 percent.”

This increase in registration seems to be a steady pattern with the Recreation Department showing an increase in both 2016 and 2017.

The BOC was presented with bids for 2018 mowing contracts. These contracts include mowing and restroom upkeep for Horseshoe Bend and Tammen parks.

There was a total of four bids presented, with $2,200 per month being the high bid and $1,800 per month being the low bid.

O’Neal stated, “I’m fine with the lowest bid. I think if we do that, it should be a 30-day trial.”

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee had reservations about going with the lowest bidder: “This last mowing season, I had more complaints come through my door.”

Sosebee acknowledged that when the company who submitted the highest bid had the county’s contract he received little to no complaints.

“When you don’t hear people complaining, you know the work is good,” Sosebee added to his thoughts.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson recommended tabling the vote for the mowing contract until the companies submitting the bids could be further researched.

Helton recused himself from discussion due to having on-going business with one of the bidders, and both post commissioners agreed to discuss the contracts at a later date.

Nichole Potzauf, executive director of Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association (BRMAA), spoke of happenings at the Art Center.

In 2017, approximately 41,000 guests enjoyed the exhibits and classes at the Art Center, and it is estimated the BRMAA had an economic impact of $618,000 in our area and $1.2 million for our region.

Currently, the Art Center is hosting Youth Art Month. Potzauf explained, “(Youth Art Month) is an annual exhibit that we host to celebrate our emerging artists. So, all of Fannin County Schools participate, as well as home school children.”

Potzauf also noted that this year Copper Basin schools are participating in the program.

The BRMAA hosts several fundraising events throughout the year, and Potzauf shared that through fundraising efforts “we were able to give $4,000 in youth scholarships to children in our area to obtain art classes and art education.”

“We’ve partnered with UNG (University of North Georgia) to do a lunch and learn series,” Potzauf spoke of what is new for BRMAA this year.

This partnering is with the UNG Appalachian Studies Program and English Department. The first Lunch and Learn will take place April 18 and will be hosted by Blue Ridge Scholars of UNG.

The first in this series will be “an artistic presentation of the poverty and resilience of the Blue Ridge mountains and our area,” according to Potzauf.

A new appointment to the Board of Assessors took place, with Helton recommending Angelina Powell to this board in place of current board member Lane Bishop.

This recommendation was met with no discussion by the post commissioners, and the board unanimously voted for Powell to receive this appointment. Powell will serve a four-year term beginning March 1, 2018.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Parks and Recreation, Eddie O'Neal , Board of Commissioners, Chairman Stan Helton, Post 1 Commissioner, Earl Johnson, Post 2 Commissioner, Larry Joe Sosebee, Horseshoe Bend Park, Appalachian Regional Commission, Recreational Trail Grant, Northwest Regional Commission, Tamen Park, mowing contract, Nichole Potzauf, Executive Director of Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association, BRMAA, Youth Art Month, University of North Georgia, Appalachian Studies Program, Blue Ridge Scholars, Board of Assessors, Angelina Powell, Lane Bishop, Fannin County Emergency Management Agency, EMA, Robert Graham, Fannin County Finance Director, Robin Gazaway

Points of interest from Fannin County’s January budget review.

Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham was present to discuss the progress of the new fire station and E-911 center that is currently in the construction stage.

Graham stated that the structural portion of the project was running on time and on budget and was about a third of the way complete. Graham expects completion of this project in May or June of this year.

Fannin County Finance Director Robin Gazaway reported a summary of the county’s expenses and revenues for the month of January. Being just 8 percent into the county budget, the tax assessor’s office is showing a budget deficit.

Gazaway explained that this was expected and should even out over the next couple of months: “We had budgeted for maps and that was all paid upfront. There will be some revenues from the cities that will go against that.”

So far in 2018, the county is $775,000 under budget.

Discussion of funding for the new Fire Station 1/E-911 center was discussed during this portion of the meeting.

“We knew we would have to borrow some funds,” Helton said of the financing. “We felt that we could finance out of pocket about 75 percent.”

The other 25 percent of funding, ranging from $600,000 to $1.2 million, is currently being studied by Gazaway. While nothing has been finalized, Gazaway said that she had been speaking with bond companies for funding.

Johnson, alerted by the mention of financing through bonds, asked to speak with Gazaway immediately regarding the situation.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Parks and Recreation, Eddie O'Neal , Board of Commissioners, Chairman Stan Helton, Post 1 Commissioner, Earl Johnson, Post 2 Commissioner, Larry Joe Sosebee, Horseshoe Bend Park, Appalachian Regional Commission, Recreational Trail Grant, Northwest Regional Commission, Tamen Park, mowing contract, Nichole Potzauf, Executive Director of Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association, BRMAA, Youth Art Month, University of North Georgia, Appalachian Studies Program, Blue Ridge Scholars, Board of Assessors, Angelina Powell, Lane Bishop, Fannin County Emergency Management Agency, EMA, Robert Graham, Fannin County Finance Director, Robin Gazaway

Epworth resident Noah Sims expresses concerns over courthouse security.

“I’m not in favor of getting a bond,” Johnson expressed, stern in his stance.

Johnson explained it is situations like this where he wants to see better communication taking place with the post commissioners.

Public commentary brought about questions of safety at the Fannin County Courthouse.

Epworth resident Noah Sims addressed the board on what he felt were breaches in security.

Making it clear the he was not attacking our local law enforcement, Sims addressed the security measures in place at the courthouse entrance: “I am up here as a concerned citizen. You all do not have any security in the building. Zero. It’s breached.”

Sims noted that employees often are waved through without being scanned: “When you let one person not get checked you have zero security.”

Sims would like to see policy and procedure followed for all persons entering the building without exception.

 

 

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

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Bishop out on Board of Assessors, Powell to replace

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – In a called meeting of the Fannin County Board of Assessors (BOA) Tuesday, Feb. 27, to forward an appeal to Superior Court, Chairman Lane Bishop shared with the board that he would not be reappointed at the Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting, which followed later that evening. At the commissioners meeting, local business owner Angelina Powell was appointed unanimously by the commissioners to replace Bishop on the BOA following a motion from Fannin County BOC Chairman Stan Helton and a second from Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee.

According to Bishop, his term expires Feb. 28. Bishop, who served on the assessors board for over three years, took time to issue a statement to BOA members Janie Bearden and Mark Henson as well as county Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran and BOA secretary Heather Wright. BOA members Troy Junnier and Anthony Holloway were not present for the called meeting.

“I talked to Stan Helton yesterday (Feb. 26) and he is not going to reappoint me to this board. I asked him why and he said he didn’t have to explain anything to me. And I said, ‘Stan, at least give me one more year because there’s two items that I want to finish. ‘One of them is our 10,000 (parcels in the county yet to be reappraised).’ I said I want to see that that’s done. That’s been my baby all this time. He said, ‘No.’ His mind was made up … I told him he had no reason not to reappoint me. Well, he does have a reason though. He’s got several reasons that is nothing but pure backstabbing politics in Fannin County. That’s why I’m not being reappointed, and I want the tax payers to know it. And they’re going to know it … I wanted to announce it to this board. I wanted to thank you (Bearden and Henson) for being on the board … and I hope you all will continue trying to run this board honestly, honestly for the tax payers of Fannin County. It was not run that way when we first took it over and Janie (Bearden) knows it and I know it and a lot of us know this. It is now being run honest and I think we’ve got some honest people on it. There’s some politics in it, yes. I’m very much aware of the politics. There are dirty, backstabbing politics and that’s why I’m being removed … I wish I could be a little softer in my remarks, but I don’t think so because Stan (Helton) said he hoped there were no hard feelings. I told him there were some bad hard feelings and because I know why I’m being removed and it’s wrong … plain wrong. He and Larry Joe Sosebee, I hope, will answer for what they’re doing to me.”

In the public eye at least, relations have seemed somewhat strained between the Board of Assessors and Board of Commissioners for the past six months. At an all-day workshop Sept. 20, 2017, at which the commissioners met with representatives from all county departments to discuss their respective 2018 budgets, Bishop and Bearden questioned the recent appointments of Henson and Junnier and were met with a firm rebuttal from Chairman Helton. Those appointments expanded the BOA from three members to five.

In early December, just as the commissioners were finalizing all revisions to the county’s proposed 2018 budget, the BOA publicly questioned the commissioners’ recommended, and ultimately approved, 2018 budget of $848,265 for the Board of Assessors. The assessors requested budget was $977,370.

Following the budget talks, the BOA experienced mechanical troubles with two vehicles in its six-vehicle fleet in January rendering them both inoperable, and Junnier spoke on behalf of the BOA at the Jan. 29 Board of Commissioners meeting to lobby for the purchase of two replacement vehicles. During that session, Chairman Helton questioned some end-of-the-year purchases made by the tax assessors department, and Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson told Junnier that if the commissioners approved the purchases, he did not want to hear about the problems of the tax assessors’ vehicle fleet again while he was in office. Ultimately, the commissioners did approve the purchase of two 2016 Ford Escapes in the amount of $20,000 each at their Feb. 13 meeting.

In a post-meeting interview with Bishop Tuesday, the tax assessors chairman pointed to Commissioner Sosebee as the origin of contention against him from the Board of Commissioners. Bishop said in addition to the reappraisal of the 10,000 parcels, he had hoped to stay on the BOA long enough to be sure a relapse did not occur within the tax assessors department: “The main thing is that the Board (of Assessors) does not go back to the ‘good ole boy’ syndrome and start favoring some of the more wealthy people in this county.”

Bishop referred back to the period before he joined the BOA when it was alleged that several Fannin County residents received favors from within the tax assessors department by not having their tax bills recorded and added to the tax digest.

“This (department) was corrupted. It was the ‘good ole boys’ syndrome going right here in this tax office,” Bishop stated. “When we took over this office within the first two weeks or so, we added $10 million to the digest. Now where do you think that $10 million came from? It came from returns that had never been put on the digest.”

Bishop along with former BOA members Nathan Henson and Sonia Smith replaced the former BOA in May 2014 after that tax assessors board was removed entirely by the Board of Commissioners upon the recommendation of Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver due to departmental deficiencies. According to Bishop, one of the new BOA’s first moves then was to terminate two tax assessor employees in an effort to correct the deficiencies within the department.

“Well, one of those people happened to be a friend of Larry Joe Sosebee,” Bishop said, “and he’s held that against me ever since I’ve been on this board.”

As far as his relationship with Helton, Bishop said, “Stan Helton ain’t got one thing against me except what he’s been told.”

Concerning the reasoning for not reappointing Bishop, Helton, in a follow-up interview Tuesday, stated, “Well, I think I did give (Bishop) reason. Our board – me and the other two commissioners – are unanimous in that we feel that that office (tax assessors department) has gotten too big, and the budget that is there now is far in excess of our surrounding counties and it needs to go in the other direction.”

Helton pointed out the consent order from the state Department of Revenue was lifted in August of last year. “There’s no reason for that department to keep getting bigger or even be the size it is now. It’s too big,” Helton added.

The commission chairman further explained he feels the duties of the tax assessors office can still be accomplished with a smaller staff but that any future potential reductions would occur “slowly, over time.”

“We’re not talking about slashing the thing in half immediately,” Helton stated.

Helton also mentioned he felt a degree of resistance from the BOA regarding a downsizing movement and said, “I’m going to appoint someone who agrees with me.”

When asked about the BOA’s continued concern that a reduction in staff and/or budget could result in a relapse to the period leading up to state’s previous consent order on the BOA, Helton replied, “I do not accept that. Not at all. Because if people are going to do their job, that will not happen. And we will make sure, the Board of Commissioners will make sure that that does not happen … I don’t accept that attitude. I do not. And there are some real drastic things we could do.”

That “drastic” option Helton proposed, though he clarified he did not favor, would be to contract an independent company to do field appraisals and property evaluations. “We do have that option, (but) I don’t want to do that,” Helton added, saying he has always favored hiring locally.

“What I don’t accept is why our (tax assessors’) budget is 25 percent higher than what Gilmer (County’s) was, almost twice Pickens (County), and three times Union County. And we’re not talking about apples to oranges. We’re talking about counties that have similar numbers as far as properties that have to be appraised, demographics. I mean it’s too close,” Helton continued. “It’s not going to stay the biggest, most expensive budget in the four counties that surround us. It’s not going to stay that way.”

In a Wednesday morning interview, Commissioner Sosebee responded to Bishop’s claim that the lack of reappointment by the Board of Commissioners was a retaliatory tactic stemming from Sosebee. While Sosebee admitted he did have friends who worked within the tax assessors department years ago and who were terminated shortly after Bishop took office, the commissioner added, “That’s all water under the bridge.”

“I have never had any animosity toward Bishop or the BOA,” Sosebee explained. “If I did have any animosity, I would have gotten rid of Bearden.”

Instead, Bearden was reappointed to the BOA by the Board of Commissioners, as Sosebee’s personal appointment, at the Feb. 13 BOC meeting.

“This is not a personal vendetta,” Sosebee stated. “If (Bishop) feels that way, I’m sorry.”

Sosebee also stated the appointment of Powell at the BOC meeting Tuesday evening instead of the reappointment of Bishop came as a shock to him and denied influencing Helton in any way ahead of the decision.

“I never influenced Helton (on the move),” Sosebee said. “Mr. Helton is not one who is easily influenced by anyone. I had nothing to do with it.”

 

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Blue Ridge election results: Whitener, Herndon, Thomas re-elected, Gaddis, Cornelius, Fitts will join

Election, News, Politics

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Unofficial results from the Blue Ridge Mayoral and City Council elections were tallied late Tuesday evening, Nov. 7, at City Hall.

After six hotly contested races, Mayor Donna Whitener, Post 1 City Council Member Harold Herndon and Post 2 City Council Member Rhonda Thomas retained positions while candidates Kenneth Gaddis, Robbie Cornelius and Nathan Fitts will all take oaths as Post 3, 4 and 5 city council members, respectively, in January.

Incumbent Whitener defeated local business owner Brendan Doyle 288 to 185 in the mayor’s race. Whitener described the night’s results as “extremely exciting.”

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Mayor, Election 2017, Donna Whitener, Blue Ridge City Council

Blue Ridge Mayor Donna Whitener

“I have a really good council going in. They have lots of experience, lots of knowledge. They’re going to bring a lot to the table at Blue Ridge. I can’t wait for the next four years,” the mayor stated. “We’re going to focus on infrastructure. We have some serious issues there (with) upgrading infrastructure (and) the same thing we’ve been doing: paving roads. We’re going to continue to keep working toward keeping a vibrant downtown.”

Herndon was re-elected in what became an uncontested contest after candidate Jane Whaley failed to qualify for the election because of city residency requirements and the Georgia Supreme Court ultimately denied her appeal of city Election Superintendent Barbie Gerald’s ruling to remove Whaley from the ballot following a Sept. 25 hearing with Whaley, her attorney, Frank Moore, and City Attorney David Syfan. Herndon received 317 total votes in the election while several uncounted ballots cast showed abstention in the Post 1 election, according to Gerald.

Blue Ridge City Council, Election 2017, Post 1, Harold Herndon, Fannin County, Georgia

Post 1 City Council Member Harold Herndon

The Post 1 incumbent said he was “looking forward to another four years” on the council.

“We’ll just see how things work out. You just never know – no matter who it is or where they come from – whether you’re going to get along with them or not or whether you share some of the same opinions,” Herndon said of the council elect.

While admitting the new council had several challenges on the horizon, Herndon explained, “You’ve got to look at finances and see how (the city is) sitting … There’s a lot of things that have to come together before you can even come to a decision about what you might be able to do.”

Blue Ridge City Council, Fannin County, Gergia, Rhonda Thomas, Post 2, Election 2017

Post 2 Council Member Rhonda Thomas

In the Post 2 race, incumbent Rhonda Thomas won over downtown business owner Angelina Powell with 255 votes to Powell’s 223. After the final tally, Thomas said she was “thrilled with the results.”

“I think everyone who will be on this council are going to do a fabulous job. It’s a diverse group of people who have great ideas, and we’re going to come together for the benefit of the city, for the residents and for the businesses, and we’re going to make a difference,” Thomas stated. “Blue Ridge should be excited about their choices.”

Citing parking and city infrastructure improvement as key challenges facing the new council, Thomas was optimistic of the city’s future. “You’ll see a huge difference in this city in the next four years,” she added.

Whitener, Herndon and Thomas will all be entering their third terms, each having served since 2010.

FetchYourNews, Blue Ridge City Council, Post 3, Kenneth Gaddis, Fannin County, Georgia

Post 3 Council Member Elect Kenneth Gaddis

Challenger Gaddis defeated incumbent Angie Arp in the Post 3 race taking 288 votes to Arp’s 186. “It feels great; it feels amazing,” council member elect Gaddis said after his win.

“I’m excited to work with the citizens. That’s my key. We are a council, but we are working with the citizens,” Gaddis added.

FetchYourNews, Blue Ridge City Council, Fannin County, Georgia, Election, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Mike Jacobs

Post 4 Council Member Elect Robbie Cornelius

Receiving 255 votes to Mike Jacobs’ 205, Cornelius won the open seat of Post 4.

Cornelius shared the sentiments of all the other winning candidates of the night and was excited to begin on the city council. Relieved that the campaign was over, Cornelius laughed, “I’m tired. I’ve been out in the rain all day (campaigning).”

In the closest race of the night, Fitts overtook David Stuart by 20 votes, receiving a total of 244 in the open contest for Post 5.

FetchYourNews, Blue Ridge City Council, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Fannin County, Georgia

Post 5 Council Member Elect Nathan Fitts

“We’re going to work on parking (and) the infrastructure of the water lines and sewer lines,” the council member elect said of city needs. “Hopefully, we can make it so streamlined we can all get along and do things a little more professionally.”

According to Gerald, 486 total ballots were cast in the 2017 election. Of that sum, 221 ballots were cast on Election Day, 229 were early voting and 36 were absentees. “If I’m not mistaken, that’s probably a record (turnout),” Gerald said of the election.

For continual coverage of the Blue Ridge City Council, stay with FetchYourNews.com.

 

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

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

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