Remember the days of old when you went to the Fair and visited the House of Mirrors. You made your way through the maze looking at the confusing, funny and often times distorted reflections. It was something fun, amusing and sometimes challenging to go through that maze. Yet, why are those childhood memories suddenly replaced with the challenge of the maze citizens find themselves in while trying to discover answers to questions from government.
I recently attended the City of Blue Ridge’s Town Hall on Annexation. I was called to the podium and quickly voiced my concerns to the Council as you only have two minutes. After I went through the questions, I was told to leave a copy and they would respond. A week later that response arrived.
My first question was why are developers ‘driving the bus’ with annexation? I’m not certain how the response was even relevant to the question, but it basically said the expansion of new business and developments in the designated area would create the need for city services. OK, but what I asked was why are developers leading all these efforts.
One developer initiated the discussion on annexation in 2017 and later brought in a few others who wanted it. Four developers discussed their plans at the City Council Meeting on May 19. Now the City has confirmed there are 10 interested in annexation. Since we now know what the developers want, it would be nice if the City would share what their vision is for Blue Ridge.
We need to know, with certainty, that the City has development plans, zoning and land use protocols in place. What is even more important is those plans should have been developed with input from the public and be accessible for public review.
The City is embarking on an attempt to secure rights to portions of two highly trafficked roadways, one of which is scheduled for a significant expansion, but what are their plans for the area? If the first developer who spoke at the May 19 Council meeting is any indication — hold on — because their plans look more in line with Gwinnett County than Fannin.
My next question focused on the public and what they wanted for their community. I was told that the majority of letters and conversations the City received had supported annexation. The majority of letters? Where are those letters? Better yet, if there was such overwhelming support, why would three Council members suggest they needed to get input from the public and County Commissioners and ask to schedule the Town Hall?
One Council member told me it was uncertain how they could move forward when the majority who spoke opposed the annexation. It is disappointing the Council did not include any information concerning annexation at its most recent meeting (June 9). From what I’m told from the County ‘nothing more has transpired’ with regard to meeting with the Commissioners. We also know a letter was sent to Speaker Ralston asking him to hold off on the Annexation Resolution unless the City advised otherwise. So what is the status of the annexation and why is the Council now silent?
Probably the key question in everyone’s mind is what is the total cost for the annexation. While this question has been asked numerous times and the response varies only a little, it remains vague and unknown. Here are the responses I’ve received so far:
— We’re only annexing the road and right of way – there is no cost
— Some things are paid by GDOT at no cost
— Minimal costs for legal fees and an ad for the newspaper
— The cost is minimal compared to the revenue that would be generated
We still have no clear understanding of what the cost will be and continue to be told there is no cost and they will apply for a grant.
Impact studies are important for any city considering a change in zoning or an annexation. What will the impact be on existing infrastructure? How many car trips in and out of these large developments will impact existing roads and neighborhoods? Has the City analyzed what spare capacities their systems have and when they will need to be increased? Are there any backlogs in maintenance to existing systems and if so what is the financial burden of those backlogs? What is the impact to a current homeowner who could very well see their taxes increase? Noise impact? Quality of life impact? The list goes on.
No one knows, but the response said that GDOT makes the decisions for the roads, traffic lights, access lanes, etc. Yes, GDOT is responsible for the road, but they are not responsible for zoning, land use, what current systems can handle, current debt load and an understanding of what the citizens want their community to look like. This, again, is where developers are leading the parade and the City has willingly joined it.
I asked about sewer treatment because this falls in the category of impact when looking at infrastructure. I’ve heard there are some concerns with the facility. I’ll quote the response:
“The 22 year old sewer plant has been experiencing problems with repair cost. There is a need to comply with NEW EPD regulations, temperature control, belt press, dehydrator and various other issues to keep the plant operating efficiently. A Grant/Loan was applied for to correct these issues in the amount of $5M and has been awarded in the past few weeks. A portion of these upgrades is funded by a Loan requiring a payment to be offset by current customer rate increases or by adding NEW customers.”
My question to citizens is, did you know the City made a commitment to a loan that will come from either current customer rate increases or adding new customers?
With the first developer stating his is a twenty-year plan, at what point will they be adding new customers to share the load? Does the developer pay a connection fee and then the new home owner assume the role of ‘new customer’? What happens if something goes wrong with the development and the City’s outlay is not matched and exceeded by that magical anticipated revenue? Based on their response – customer rate increases.
The financial part remains a ‘smoke and mirrors’ situation. For as many times as citizens have asked what is the cost, what is the financial impact, the response remains “there is no financial burden to taxpayers”. The City states “The proposed annexation would increase sales tax dollars for the City and County and NEW sewer revenue for the City.” I have yet to figure out how those sewer lines will suddenly appear in the dirt and who will pay for them to be placed there.
There is one question that haunts me trying to get through this maze – What if? What if these developments are not quite as successful as they are being marketed? Any challenge to the economy or the housing market will greatly impact the success or failure of development plans. Blue Ridge markets itself as a place to slow down and relax. What happens when you build high density, new urbanist developments? Will tourists be drawn to the same crowded developments and traffic they have where they live now and want to escape from? I don’t think so.
An additional impact is what happens when a high-price development is built in close proximity to average priced homes for the general population. When I asked if people would be able to afford their taxes due to the impact of high-priced developments nearby and increases in assessments, the response was “the impact is unknown at this time.”
Annexation is often thought of as a quick fix to bring in revenue without really doing all the math. I’m not convinced the math has been done. I also remain steadfast in my concerns for how these decisions will impact taxpayers. The fact most of these discussions were done without any public knowledge sends a clear message and one of concern. Why would a City not want public input and support so the project is a win for everyone.
My last question asked what possible impact could the thoughts of the citizens have on the Council when most had already expressed their strong support for this annexation in the May 19 meeting. The project manager encouraged me to reach out to the Council members to determine their position on annexation. He did say he supported the annexation based on economic progress and job creation. He also said the City has zoning and any development would have to adhere to those guidelines. It should be noted that the developer who first sought this annexation chairs the Planning Commission and also sits on the Zoning Board of Appeals. Since I have found no published minutes from either of those Boards, I can only wonder if he was or will be involved in anything regarding the review of and decision making with this annexation. Speculation, of course, but a real concern.
The closing comment from the project manager was “It is imperative that the growth along those highways have regulations to protect adjoining neighbors and maintain the beauty of our community.” Why was that not the focus and commitment spoken by every Council member and the Mayor? It should have been the first comment made. It should make me feel more comfortable, but a few questions earlier he said “the impact (on surrounding neighborhoods) is unknown at this time”.
The fact that impact is unknown is what just turned this maze into a house without an exit, when/if they move forward with annexation, there will be no way to escape whatever consequences may result. Annexation is a critical decision and one that should not be made hastily. I certainly hope the City will step back, get the public involved in developing a future plan, include the County and work together for a better tomorrow.
I want to close by saying I know our elected officials have an enormous responsibility, but I also strongly believe in public input. I don’t want to see a community lost to the direction of developers while the public is pushed to the sidelines. I hope our elected realize there are citizens who are knowledgeable and they should not be dismissed. If they are so quick to buy into a developer’s pie-in-the-sky projected revenues, then why not give equal time and respect to the average citizen.
Blue Ridge, GA
Blue Ridge, Ga. – Annexation of portions of Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 515 have been halted for the remainder of the 2020 year.
City of Blue Ridge officials met opposition to the annexation plan when council members Nathan Fitts and Rhonda Haight questioned the information they had been given by Blue Ridge City Mayor Donna Whitener prior to a vote that sent the appeal for annexation to the State Capitol.
Haight, Fitts and new council member Mike Panter all voiced that more public input was needed before the annexation should take place. A Town Hall meeting was scheduled shortly after to allow citizens to speak either for or against the topic at hand.
The majority of speakers at the meeting were in opposition, most agreeing that growth is inevitable but the way this particular deal was made regarding the annexation was not forthcoming or transparent and should therefore be tabled until more information is available to the public.
“Back up and do it right,” citizen Paul Miguire declared at the town hall.
Residents were still left baffled when the Blue Ridge City Council released their upcoming June 9 (Election Night) meeting agenda. Annexation was not on the agenda to be discussed, even with the looming deadline to either move forward or rescind before State Legislators reconvened their session.
Annexation is not on the agenda for the upcoming meeting because Blue Ridge City Officials have already sent a letter to the Capitol asking that no action be taken on the annexation request for the remainder of 2020, unless voted on by council to renew its original request.
The letter, dated June 4, 2020, reads:
Dear Speaker Ralston:
As you may recall, I previously forwarded a resolution passed by the City Council requesting the annexation of certain roads into the City. It is my understanding a House Bill was drafted to comply with that request. However, on May 19, 2020, the City Council voted to respectfully request that you table the previously requested annexation and take no action for the remainder of the 2020 legislative session unless the City renews its previous request. Additionally, the City Council also wishes to rescind its requests relating to the Charter amendments for staggered terms and the ability fill a vacant seat by appointment. I appreciate all you do for the State and am happy to answer any questions. Thank you.
Taylor English Duma, LLP
My Dad always taught me, ‘keep your eye on the ball.’ I first learned that lesson at age six when he was hitting grounders to my older brother. He gave me the glove and proceeded with my first lesson. My Dad hit the ball, the ball hit a rock, ricocheted quickly and hit me hard in the throat, knocking the breath out of me. Yes, I learned don’t be distracted, keep your eye on the ball so you will not be blindsided. Recently, I have found the same truths in baseball can apply to our local government.
The City of Blue Ridge has embarked on a journey and, sadly, they did not allow citizens on the same ship of knowledge, but instead, put us in the rowboat they are towing behind. Unfortunately, when you don’t know who’s driving the boat, you can’t see where you are going, you have no idea as to the challenges along the way and you have no clue what you will end up with, it’s difficult to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Generally, a government entity does not schedule public meetings on Election Day. Why would anyone want to compete with such an important civic duty for every citizen? They give us an opportunity to participate in government by voting for those we believe to be the best representatives, someone to make the best decisions in the day-to-day matters of managing government responsibilities. Yet, Tuesday, June 9, the City has a regularly scheduled meeting which will be in direct competition with Election Day. You may know your candidates, but few have a clue what’s going on at City Hall. I can’t help but wonder about this distraction.
What is so important that it needs to be addressed on Election Day? Better question, why is annexation, currently the hottest topic in the County, not on the agenda? The vote on annexation was tabled on May 19, but must be decided at some point. I wish I had the answer, but it seems more like trying to catch the grounder on that rocky surface and no one has any idea which direction this issue is headed.
The annexation debacle started three years ago. Apparently it was mostly discussions between a developer, the mayor and perhaps a few other staff. Not until February of this year was the public made aware of the proposed annexation at a Town Hall regarding parking issues. Suddenly, the evening Town Hall included annexation as part of the agenda. Who would be distracted by a quick summary and vote on annexation when you came with a focus to discuss all the issues with downtown parking?
Why would the City add such an important proposal to a Town Hall on February 5, when they had a regularly scheduled meeting on February 11? Most government entities utilize Town Halls for public discussion and concerns, not for matters of official business, like voting on an important issue. The City did not even have a quorum present at the Town Hall to vote on the issue and had to have another member phone in her vote. Unfortunately, without a quorum present, this vote is not in compliance with procedures.
At some point the Resolution for Annexation was forwarded to Speaker David Ralston and Senator Steve Gooch at the State level for approval. The Mayor stated in a meeting that this method was the best way to handle this annexation, but it was also the method with the least public involvement. Distract the people with the threat of paying to park in their own hometown, slip a critical matter on the agenda, get a quorum together, whether legal or not, approve it and straight to the State Capitol. Just another ricocheted ball to try to field.
Fast forward to March and the County Commissioners all expressed their surprise and concern for the annexation, resulting in the Commission voting in opposition. Next was another City Council meeting held on May 19 that was nothing short of watching a pro wrestling match on TV. Where is Hulk Hogan when you need him because the citizens just got a body slam with the information shared at that meeting.
The saving grace from that Council meeting was two members pushing for public input via a Town Hall that was held June 1. There were no distractions at that meeting as citizens were allowed to share their perspectives, with an overwhelming majority against this annexation. It remains to be seen if their comments will make any impact. Yet, if the Council ignores their concerns, it will send a very clear picture as to the intent and transparency of these elected officials
This annexation project has been described as a simple matter of choice, but the distraction of our simple ‘yes or no’ choice is far outweighed by a plethora of choices already made by developers, supported by some in the City, that will change this County forever. Our future is being planned and pushed forward without an ounce of detail shared. Many citizens moved here for what Fannin County offers now and have no interest in the over-built density and traffic they left behind and that desire is certainly shared by those who have called Fannin home throughout their lives.
While I am not against growth, I support smart growth with the City, County and citizens working together to guide the future of Fannin County. There are aspects of this annexation that should be known now, like funding, impact studies, ability of current infrastructure to handle the increased demands, impact to current property owners, etc. Yet, these details are unknown. It is much like being asked to vote for a new leader, but having no information on any of the candidates.
We should not be distracted by, nor subject to, our elected and developers trying to rush this annexation through this session of the General Assembly. The pressure is on with only a couple of weeks remaining in session. Even one developer stated he was in contact with Speaker Ralston, checking on the ‘d-day’ deadline they needed to meet for approval. Should this bill make it to the floor and be approved that developer stated he could see his gross revenues increase by a projected $67 million. Meanwhile, the citizens are still trying to figure out how all of this is going to be funded and the impact it will have on them personally and their quality of life.
I have no idea how this story will end. The Council’s next agenda has been published, but you should not be distracted by the limited list of agenda items. They have the ability to add items, like annexation, at any time, even last minute before the meeting. Keep in mind, you have to sign up a week ahead of the meeting for public comment, yet they can add to the agenda at any point up to the meeting.
Witnessing this series of events and how distracting it has become reinforces why it is critical to know the candidates in an election, see how they respond to issues, understand their vision and ask them questions — then GO VOTE!
I do believe that we should be able to trust our elected officials. We should expect their trustworthiness. They are a fiduciary for the citizens, managing something they do not own, for our benefit. Somehow I wonder if they have been distracted from that fact.
Blue Ridge, GA
FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – In March 2020, Fannin County Commissioners issued a letter of opposition regarding the city of Blue Ridge’s proposed annexation. Three months later, little has changed.
At the end of the June 1 called meeting, Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson took a moment to discuss the highly contested topic. He asked people to keep an open mind, but at this time, he opposes the measure.
Patterson added that he spoke with several members of the community, including a few who support it. However, most people were against the annexation of Hwy 5 and Hwy 515.
“I just feel like it wouldn’t be the right thing,” said Patterson. “I don’t see in looking at it that it would be the right thing for the county to do so.”
Post One Earl Johnson affirmed that it’s too early to even form a complete opinion either for or against. The commissioners haven’t received an annexation proposal from the city.
“I think until we see anything on paper, or in black and white, it’s going to hard for any of us to come to a conclusion on anything. I think that cart’s still way before the horse in my opinion,” stated Johnson.
Chairman Stan Helton had no comment on this issue.
At the May 26 commission meeting, Fannin resident Donna Thompson addressed the board about annexation. She supported the commissioners’ decision to oppose it.
“We saw firsthand how uncontrolled growth can destroy a community in a very short period of time,” explained Thompson. “When you talk about two developments that are highly dense…how is that going to be handled in terms of transportation, traffic control, accident response, general safety monitoring, etc? These things do impact the county.”
Thompson wasn’t against people earning a living, but residential developers focused on upscale housing, then some residents will be left out of the picture. She requested that the county and city consider the residents of Blue Ridge before making a decision based on furthering the tourism industry.
Blue Ridge City Council held a public town hall on Monday, June 1 at 5 p.m. The annexation currently sits in the hopper at the General Assembly for representatives and senators to vote on. If the city wants to rescind the measure, they must vote again and inform Speaker of the House David Ralston and Senator Steve Gooch.
The city chose the local act of General Assembly process for this proposed annexation. According to the Georgia Municipal Association, the procedure must follow these steps:
“In addition to annexation by home rule, the Georgia General Assembly may change a municipality’s boundaries and annex property into the municipal limits by enacting local legislation. Where more than 50% of an area proposed for annexation by local act is “used for residential purposes” and the number of residents to be annexed exceeds 3% of the city’s current population or 500 people, whichever is less, a referendum on annexation must be held in the area to be annexed. “Used for residential purposes” means that the property is a lot or tract five acres or less in size on which is constructed a habitable dwelling unit (O.C.G.A. § 36-36-16).
Land can also be deannexed from a city by the legislature. Note that the introduction of a local act of the General Assembly must be preceded by notice to the municipality affected and advertisement in the newspaper (O.C.G.A. § 28-1-4).”
Opinion – Is it possible to get accurate citizen input at a town hall meeting and ban the citizens from attending? Unlikely. Regardless, the City of Blue Ridge is forging ahead with their “town hall” meeting to get resident input on the annexation of portions of Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 515.
I guess we are lucky that the city is even pretending to care what the residents think. Had it not been for council members Nathan Fitts and Rhonda Haight, this deal would be signed, sealed and delivered.
Haight and Fitts put a halt to the annexation after feeling that Mayor Donna Whitener had been misleading in the information that she had given, and misleading she was. One glaring point that stood out among the misinformation train was her swearing that citizens had already voiced their opinions.
Well, they had….in 2017. Hardly what I would call a reasonable time-frame of considered public input.
County officials were also taken off guard with the vote in favor of annexation.
Whitener, along with others present at the recent city council meeting, all agreed that County Commission Chairman Stan Helton had been present in a past “annexation” meeting, with Whitener stating that he was in favor of this annexation.
What Whitener fails to mention, once again, is that this meeting took place well over a year ago and that the meeting was only to discuss the possibility of receiving a grant to run sewer to Mercier Orchards and by default INOLA Blue Ridge.
Annexation and the discussion of, was not the purpose of this meeting.
After details have been brought to light, the city sends out a notice of a town hall meeting, but once again transparency does not seem to be their top priority.
The notice clearly states:
“The public is encouraged to attend however, social distancing will be practiced, and everyone is encouraged to wear a mask. Seating will be limited in order to follow the guidelines set forth by the Governor of Georgia.”
Is it really fair to the residents of the city to not have their voices heard under the guise of Public Safety?
You tell me, how easy would it be to stack the speakers in favor of your agenda with only a limited number of people able to attend? I would think pretty easy, especially when big money is involved.
The City has in no way attempted to accommodate their usual or even possibly larger than normal crowd, and Fannin County does have the resources for them to seek help in this arena. The Performing Arts Center (PAC), the Blue Ridge Community Theater, or even outdoors at the City Park to name a few, but the City has no intention of moving this meeting.
They did give citizens another option:
“With social distancing in process we understand that some may not wish to attend. Therefore, questions regarding this meeting or annexation may be answered prior to the meeting by calling Jeff Stewart at 706-632-2091 ext. 2. If you would like to submit a letter of support or opposition but do not wish to attend the meeting, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
With the absence of transparency and honesty shown so far, I have little faith that any of these emails would be read aloud at the meeting or even acknowledged, and we the people would be none the wiser.
While this town hall meeting or lack thereof is not technically illegal due to the declared State of Emergency, it is unethical.
The people should demand that their governments either open up all the way or hold off on major decisions until a time when they can accommodate their populous.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Councilmembers accused Mayor Donna Whitener of hiding information and expressed the need for county and citizen involvement before annexing more property into the city.
Rick Skelton and other local business owners urged the council to continue on the path of annexation. Skelton is developing the 9265 Blue Ridge Drive/Inola property. He presented a twenty-year plan with 21 houses, event space, one retail, and one restaurant on a septic system. However, on a sewer system, he proposed 144 homes/townhomes, 55K sq. ft. for retail, and 20K sq. ft. business center/venue. Sewer would also provide additional revenue for the city.
“I’ve been meeting with the city, Jeff, Kelsey, Becky, and others. There’s been many meetings about the annexation and the sewer along with Mercier’s and Joe,” stated Skelton. “You can tell we’re stuck without it. I understand that, I’ve been talking to the mayor and council members. They understand the necessity of it. One of the problems [is] all these different things going together and being voted on. I was under the original impression it was just for Mercier’s back to town, then that extended to Valero and then up to 515.”
Skelton said he first discussed annexation with the city in 2017. The intended annexation would cover the entire property discussed. Fitts claimed that was the first time he had ever heard of those plans as a councilmember.
“I think we’ve got to give ample time to meet with no. 1 the county because again they did not agree to it, and we have a letter from [Chairman] Stan [Helton]. I spoke with him and they said they did not know about it. And we’re got to have time to have a town hall meeting because we did not give our citizens any time to consider what could or couldn’t go on,” proclaimed Councilmember Nathan Fitts.
Mayor Donna Whitener tried to use a meeting from two-years ago with Helton, County Attorney Lynn Doss, and Christie Gribble that included an annexation discussion as the county’s notification.
According to Whitener, Helton agreed to help the businesses involved and the city in any way possible at this time.
Fitts countered with a meeting from two years ago doesn’t constitute consent, and the commissioners should have been informed as well as the city council. He maintained that he had no idea what the mayor wanted to do and outright called her a liar. He added that this perceivably underhanded mix-up could hurt county-city relations. Councilmember Rhonda Haight reaffirmed that Fitts and other members knew nothing about annexation until two days before the special called meeting.
Later in the meeting, Skelton explained the chairman and county representatives might have been confused since the meeting initially addressed sewer expansion. In that meeting, DCA confirmed that property would need to be annexed to receive the grants discussed. The businesses benefiting would pay for the extra costs since GDOT wouldn’t pay for it.
She added that a town hall meeting isn’t necessary for annexation with the route the council has chosen to go. Councilmember Rhonda Haight confirmed that Whitener’s correct, but that the people of the county have a right to know about the annexation before it goes forward. According to Haight, the last county-wide meeting pertaining to annexation took place eight years ago.
“I believe that is what we’re trying to constitute as our meeting. It does not count as a meeting if it was eight years ago,” stated Haight.
Whitener retorted that Haight could have asked for a public hearing. Haight quickly countered that the council found out the annexation was on the agenda only two days beforehand. Additionally, it appeared as a charter change and some councilmembers didn’t look into the details before voting on it.
Haight also raised the point that GDOT won’t begin taking bids to develop Hwy 5 until 2020, so there’s no rush on annexation. The council has time to gather public input.
In Department Head Rebecca Harkins report, she commented that annexation can’t happen unless existing infrastructure is fixed. Waterlines are aging and significant work needs to be done to the sewer as part of the plant project.
Skelton spoke up that his developers had an alternate plan in case of that to pay for roads on the property. He also said that just the roads would be annexed, and people could opt to become part of the city.
“But the citizens in the city of Blue Ridge, they don’t know that,” explained Councilmember Mike Panter.
This would also increase city residents’ taxes because of extra police control, according to Haight.
“We need input from people,” said Haight. “Maybe no one is opposed to it and that would be great.”
The mayor explained she received letters of support, but she hasn’t held a town meeting.
“We’re not against it by any means. We’re just against the process by which happened,” explained Fitts.
“I was in shock the way it was done because being a city resident, I had no knowledge whatsoever of it before the meeting,” added Panter.
Councilmember Robbie Cornelius asked why no one voted to table the annexation vote instead of blindly passing it in February. Fitts admitted he shouldn’t have trusted the mayor and vowed to research all topics from now before voting.
By the end of the meeting, the council tabled the annexation amendment until further discussion and directed the city attorney to inform the General Assembly of their decision.
“We do not want to put Speaker Ralston or Senator Gooch in a tough position and currently, they are put in a very tough position, said Haight. “What I would like to propose to the Mayor is if she could quickly schedule a town hall meeting and let’s schedule a meeting with commissioners…I think we can come to an agreement with them. We just need to schedule a meeting.”
She also offered to reach out to Helton about scheduling a meeting. Whitener stated that Chairman Helton has yet to respond to her email and asserted multiple times throughout the meeting that the city followed all proper annexation procedures.
“We want annexation. We just want to do it the right way,” finalized Panter.
The City of Blue Ridge will hold a town hall meeting on Monday, June 1, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. The meeting will be located at City Hall, 480 West First Street. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss and receive public input regarding annexing sections of Hwy 5 & Hwy 515 right-of-way only. The portion of right-of-way to be annexed on Hwy 5 will be from the current location at Harmony Lane to 6931 Blue Ridge Drive (parcel number 0051 B 083). This ending point was selected because it is at the end of the City’s service delivery area. The portion of right-of-way to be annexed on Hwy 515 will be from the current location at Toccoa River Bridge to Forge Mill Road (parcel number 0031 087 A). This ending point was selected due to a request from the property owners. The public is encouraged to attend however, social distancing will be practiced, and everyone is encouraged to wear a mask. Seating will be limited in order to follow the guidelines set forth by the Governor of Georgia. If you do not wish to speak but would like to watch the meeting, FetchYourNews will be filming live on FYNTV.com.
With social distancing in process we understand that some may not wish to attend. Therefore, questions regarding this meeting or annexation may be answered prior to the meeting by calling Jeff Stewart at 706-632-2091 ext. 2. If you would like to submit a letter of support or opposition but do not wish to attend the meeting, please email them to email@example.com.
FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to oppose the annexation of more property to the city of Blue Ridge, citing lack of knowledge about the proposed change.
The annexation request is currently at the Georgia General Assembly and has reportedly already passed in the House.
Chairman Stan Helton, Post One Earl Johnson, Post Two Glenn Patterson, and County Attorney Lynn Doss all confirmed that the city of Blue Ridge had not contacted them regarding the expansion.
“I have some concerns because of this expansion, from what I understand, they’re talking about expanding the city limits where it’s at right now Trail’s End, which is down the end toward McCaysville from Walmart, all the way to Gravely Gap. Also, from the Toccoa River near Tammen Park out near Forge Mill Road,” stated Helton.
Doss thought the annexation was in the early stages and not in the General Assembly because no one from the city or city attorney had contacted her about it.
“I think it’s offensive and insulting for this to occur, frankly without any information at all. It just doesn’t seem right,” declared Patterson.
The chairman also inquired if city ordinances would supplant the county’s existing regulations, such as noise, speed limits, alcohol, and law enforcement jurisdictions.
Regarding alcohol, he said, “This is a huge issue. We’ve not had any input into this, and more importantly, the people in the county have not had any input, so all of a sudden, if they start seeing alcohol in places that they’ve not seen before and they don’t get a chance to vote on it. That’s going to be a big problem.”
Johnson wanted to know if the city could ask to annex any property in the county. The answer is must be contiguous to existing annexed property, but otherwise, yes.
“A lot of things are at stake when you start annexing that much property when you talk about major highways. Highway 5 is a major highway. Highway 515 is a major highway,” asserted Johnson. “I don’t know if the county was supposed to go along. I don’t know, and that’s why I am asking. I think everyone in the county needs to wonder where was the county’s input in this.”
Post Two Patterson asked if the county attorney had ever encountered the city by-passing county input in annexation matters. She said it doesn’t happen often, but stressed the importance of county involvment with these matters.
O.C.G.A. 36-36-6 addresses municipal governing authorities providing notice to county government about proposed annexation:
“Upon accepting an application for annexation pursuant to Code Section 36-36-21 or a petition for annexation pursuant to Code Section 36-36-32, or upon adopting a resolution calling for an annexation referendum pursuant to Code Section 36-36-57, the governing authority of the annexing municipality shall within five business days give written notice of the proposed annexation to the governing authority of the county wherein the area proposed for annexation is located. Such notice shall include a map or other description of the site proposed to be annexed sufficient to identify the area. Where the proposed annexation is to be affected by a local Act of the General Assembly, a copy of the proposed legislation shall be provided by the governing authority of the municipality to the governing authority of the county in which the property proposed to be annexed is located following the receipt of such notice by the governing authority of the municipality under subsection (b) of Code Section 28-1-14.”
Doss spoke to an annexation that occurred last year and confirmed that the city attorney sent over documents. Also, a notification about a change to the city charter ran in the paper. However, no one has contacted her about annexing property this year.
She also raised potential changes to LOST and county service delivery strategy if the annexation goes through. LOST distribution will come up for renegotiation in two years.
“One of the city’s arguments [during previous LOST negotiations] was their area and tourism and what they contributed to the pie. Well if they’re area is larger, they’re going to ask for a larger share of the pie. The pie hasn’t gotten any larger. So, they get a larger share of the pie, then do we have to come back and renegotiate the service delivery strategy because they got more money than the county does out of it, but the county still has to provide all the fire service,” explained Doss.
The expense might not come out of the county’s share either, but McCaysville as well. Morganton doesn’t qualify for a portion of LOST in part because of its size. However, if Blue Ridge continues to expand, then McCaysville could no longer qualify for a share of LOST.
The annexation could also affect the service delivery area of the water authority, who has reportedly also objected to the annexation. Members of the water authority were also made aware of the proposed annexation through third parties, not the city.
“I don’t know how in the world we got to where we’re at not talking about anything,” said Johnson. “It’s very amazing to me that’s it even being talked about, and we’re having to make a decision right now where to oppose or not, and no representative had any input whatsoever.”
“I ask for a motion that we oppose this annexation and that we instruct Mrs. Doss to alert the powers that be at the Capitol that this is the official position of the board,” stated Helton, “I would much rather have a face to face meeting, an open meeting with their council to find out exactly what they’re talking about.”
The commissioners unanimously approved the motion.