‘Misinformation,’ tiny homes addressed by commissioners

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – During the Tuesday, April 24, Fannin County Board of Commissioners meeting, the board discussed what was described as “misinformation” circulating throughout the county and put a six-month moratorium on tiny homes in the county.

Immediately following public commentary, Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee took a moment to address recent comments circulating in the community that suggest the county needs to create a five-year comprehensive plan. Sosebee clarified the county already has a 10-year joint comprehensive plan in place together with the municipalities of Blue Ridge, McCaysville and Morganton, which was created under the guidance of the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission (NWGRC).

“Without this document (comprehensive plan) right here, we couldn’t get grants. We couldn’t have got the water grant we got. We couldn’t get LMIG (Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant) money to research the roads,” Sosebee added.

Sosebee also stated the source of these comments estimated the population of Fannin County would reach 40,000 within the next few years.

“Well, that’s a lot of people for a county that’s surrounded by forest service land and can’t contain that many people,” Sosebee said.

According to the NWGRC, as noted by Sosebee, Fannin’s population is expected to peak at 24,349 by 2030.

Chairman Stan Helton explained the 10-year comprehensive is a 161-page document that is available to the public through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs at the www.dca.ga.gov.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson stated, “I know sometimes people accidentally spread misinformation, but I want everyone to realize that when you speak information as if it’s true, it affects people who are serving this county. And I don’t like it reflecting negatively on me, myself, that this county doesn’t have a plan in place.”

Later, county Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham, Fire Chief Larry Thomas, EMA Deputy Director Darrell Payne, and Deputy Director of E911 Patrick Cooke came to the podium as County Attorney Lynn Doss opened three sealed bids for the purchase of three specialized desks for 911 dispatchers at the forthcoming public safety complex on Windy Ridge Road.

As Doss opened the bids, two were revealed to be duplicates bids from Watson Consoles, of Matthews, North Carolina. The Watson bid was for a total of $49,739.23, which includes $37,116.23 for the product, $9,517 for installation, and $3,106 for freight.

The other bid, from Xybix, of Littleton, Colorado, gave a total of $44,257.42, which includes $2,314.74 for sales tax, $4,100 for freight, and $4,775 for installation. Doss explained because the county is tax exempt, the total cost of the Xybix bid would more accurately be just under $42,000.

After Johnson asked Graham if EMA would need to review the specifications of the bids and the director affirmed that the department would, the bids were tabled to the next meeting for approval.

Following this, the conversation again turned to “misinformation,” this time concerning the Fannin County EMA and Fire Department (FCFD).

Certificate of Compliance from the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Counsel for Fannin County Fire Department.

“As stated earlier, there’s been some misinformation out in the public,” Graham said, “that our fire department may not be in compliance with state and federal standards, and I just want to clear that up a little bit. We are in complete compliance with Georgia Fire Safety Training Center, which is the organization that certifies fire departments in the state of Georgia. We actually have a certificate hanging on the wall at each fire station to say that we’re in compliance.”

Showing the one of the certificates to the commissioners, Graham explained although the certificate is dated 2004, the certification remains with the department unless that department becomes non-compliant. Though Graham admitted the department does rely heavily on volunteer firefighters, FCFD has “30 full-time paid employees whose duties include fire fighting, and we have never had a fire call go unanswered.”

Graham also stated the EMA currently has seven total ambulances, four of which are on-duty ambulances and three are make-up ambulances.

After Helton asked about the prospect of doubling the number of firefighters and the cost involved, both Director Graham and Chief Thomas estimated the added cost would be around $1.5 million annually for personnel along with further costs for facility upgrades.

“It’s a shame – by one person spewing misinformation – it is a shame that you have to stand here and talk about this,” Commissioner Johnson told Graham, Thomas, Payne and Cooke. “They know that we’ve had plans, they know exactly that we are state-certified … It’s a shame to me that you have to stand here and defend yourselves over something that one person in an interview just felt like he had to say … All of you have been in government a long time. It’s just election time … I appreciate you all coming up here taking your time and explaining, trying to make the people feel comfortable again.”

In other business, Chief Land Development Officer Marie Woody addressed the board on the prospect of enacting a tiny home ordinance. At the April 10 commissioners meeting, Woody and the board opened a discussion regarding tiny homes but tabled that discussion to the next meeting.

A finished, prefabricated tiny home.

On Tuesday, Woody stated Fannin is one of only four counties (Fannin, Lumpkin, Towns and Union) north of Cherokee County, Georgia, that has not passed some form of zoning. She also added that in surveying 15 nearby counties, none of the counties have specific ordinances on tiny homes and eight are currently considering tiny home ordinances, but of those eight, most have not yet decided on the square footage requirements.

Helton stated one subdivision development for tiny homes was already in the works in the county.

“We do not want to pull the rug out from under him with the investment he’s already made,” Helton said of the developer of the proposed subdivision, “but as we go forward, the concern would be that we don’t want something that is going to negatively affect other property owners in Fannin County.”

When asked about the minimum size of lots currently allowed by the county, Woody stated for a fresh tract of land with its own water and sewer system, lots could be subdivided as small as a one-third (0.33) of an acre though land development recommends no less than a 0.55-acre lot. For separate lots with water wells and septic systems, Woody explained the county recommends between 1.33-acre and 1.5-acre lots.

Johnson stated he was not so much concerned with the size of tiny homes as he was with the size of lots within potential developments and subdivisions for tiny homes.

Helton proposed to the post commissioners the idea of placing a moratorium on building tiny home subdivisions and developments and asked the commissioners for input on an exact time frame for the moratorium. After discussion, it was decided and approved unanimously to enact the moratorium for six months beginning July 1, 2018.

Robin Gazaway, county finance director, presented the monthly budget update for the county through March 31. Overall, according to Gazaway, the county is 25 percent through the fiscal year and 22 percent of its budget has been expended, leaving the county $829,415 under budget.

Departments seeing significant under-budget amounts were Public Roads ($557,168 under budget), Sheriff’s Office ($89,520 under), and Recreations ($27,148 under). Gazaway stated two departments were currently over budget – Fire/EMS/EMA ($34,983 over budget) and Tax Assessors ($18,257 over). She explained Fire/EMS/EMA was over budget because of an ambulance purchase early in the year and the Tax Assessors department was over budget because of the purchase of two vehicles but added that both departments are expected to balance out before the end of the year. The Recreation department was reported to have a $80,768 revenue, which Gazaway stated was due to the collection of gate receipts and increased concessions.

Also, Gazaway said both Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) and Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) collections were up for the year as of March 31. LOST collections, according to Gazaway, stood at $916,490.42 compared to $867,439.17 in the first quarter of 2017. SPLOST collections were $1,209,712.71 as opposed to $1,145,146.18 last year.

After an executive session, the commissioners reconvened and approved three decisions.

The board approved a filing in Superior Court to abate a public safety nuisance on Ada Street. Last month, the board unanimously approved a property on Ada Street to be dilapidated and for it to be condemned.

Also, the board approved to forward with bringing an unauthorized junkyard on Mobile Road into compliance with county ordinances.

Lastly, the board granted Rene Hamby’s transfer to the Public Works department and approved the hiring of Lauren Hein as the new human resources director for county government.

[Featured image: Members of the Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and Fire Department display a Certificate of Compliance from the state. Seen here are, from left, EMA Deputy Director Darrell Payne, Fire Chief Larry Thomas, Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham, and Deputy Director of E911 Patrick Cooke.]

 

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.

Fannin County new hires will have a new retirement plan

Community, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) voted to update the county’s retirement plan at the March 27 meeting.

The current county retirement plan is one in which the county funds 100 percent. The plan is managed by ACCG Insurance and is based on stock market projections.

According to county Chairman Stan Helton, if the stock market does not perform well, the county must use more money to fulfill obligations required by the plan.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson expressed an opinion shared by fellow board members about the county’s current plan: “I feel like it’s unsustainable for our county to continue to do that.”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Comissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Finance Director, Robin Gazaway, Fire Station, E-911, Windy Ridge Road, Loan, Bonds, Retirement Plan, ACCG Insurance, 401A Defined Contribution Plan, Public Works Director, Zack Ratcliff, Road Work, Resurfacing, Snake Nation, Ridge Road, North Old Aska, Harrison & Ada, Old Loving Road, Mabry Lane, Wise Road, Wright Mill Road, Elrod, Blue Bird, Aster Lane, Old Chapel Road, Queen Avenue off of Galloway, Old Dial Road, Mobile Circle, Lowery Road/Brown Mill Road, Mount Herman Road, Hilltop Circle, Doublehead Gap Road, Cypress Lane, Old Skennah Gap Road, Devils Den, Budget 2018, Tax Assessors

BOC discusses and fine tunes new retirement plan.

The new plan is a 401A Defined Contribution Plan and works much like a 401K. County employees would be required to enroll in the plan and make contributions. The county itself would then match employee contributions up to a maximum percentage.

“We don’t intend to do anything that affects currently retired Fannin County employees,” Helton stressed during the discussion. “We also won’t do anything that is going to affect current county employees.”

The newly discussed retirement plan will only apply to new hires of the county. Those employees who have already enrolled in the county’s current retirement plan and employees who have already retired will not see any change to their benefits.

Helton feels that the effects of adopting a new retirement plan will not be seen immediately but will help to secure funds for those on the current plan and those who have already retired: “For a future board, we feel that it is going to be best if we take that liability, which has run anywhere from $700,000 to $800,000 a year, to fund that program.”

Johnson explained about the county’s current retirement plan, “There’s a reason these are going away. They’re not sustainable.”

Johnson looked over several angles before deciding to support the new plan. A main focus for him was whether or not a fully funded plan was a valuable recruiting tool to get top employees for the county.

After having given this idea much thought, Johnson concluded, “I thought that angle over and I just don’t think it’s a feasible, legitimate way of recruiting people.”

Johnson motioned to accept the retirement plan for new hires of the county, and Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee made a second. The BOC approved unanimously to move forward with the new plan.

The new county retirement plan will be effective July 1, 2018. New employees will be eligible to enroll six months after their hire date. There is no limit as to what an employee can put into the fund, and the county will match up to 4 percent of employees’ contributions.

Employees may withdraw their portion of funds contributed at any time. The county has the option to change percentage matched on an annual basis.

Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff was present at the meeting and presented the BOC with a current list of roads scheduled to have maintenance and be resurfaced in 2018.

Ratcliff reported that 12 roads were completed and three roads were omitted from the 2017 list.

Helton clarified that in 2018 “there are 10 new roads” that are scheduled to see work.

Previously, road work was scheduled by priority, but Ratcliff took a new approach and explained, “Those are in geographically, kind of, order because we don’t want to be taking this spreader and running from one end of the county to the other.”

By dividing the work into quadrants, the county will save time and money in completing projects.

Sosebee spoke of the new work plan, “I think it’s a wise choice.”

This year, the county also took into account which roads were on school routes.

“One road we had was a real safety issue for the school as well as us,” Helton said, describing this new consideration.

The following roads will have portions scheduled for maintenance:

Snake Nation, Ridge Road, North Old Aska, Harrison & Ada, Old Loving Road, Mabry Lane, Wise Road, Wright Mill Road, Elrod, Blue Bird, Aster Lane, Old Chapel Road, Queen Avenue off of Galloway, Old Dial Road, Mobile Circle, Lowery Road/Brown Mill Road, Mount Herman Road, Hilltop Circle, Doublehead Gap Road, Cypress Lane, Old Skennah Gap Road, Devils Den.

Ratcliff also asked the board to replace a Kubota tractor mower that has been deemed unusable. The new tractor, a Massey Ferguson, would come from Mason Tractor and is on a state contract, which gives the county a 6 percent discount.

The price tag for the new equipment is $22,710, which the board unanimously agreed to fund.

While present, Ratcliff sought permission from the BOC to approve surplus equipment to be sold online, which the board agreed to do. To date, county equipment sold online has brought in a revenue of $84,872.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Comissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Finance Director, Robin Gazaway, Fire Station, E-911, Windy Ridge Road, Loan, Bonds, Retirement Plan, ACCG Insurance, 401A Defined Contribution Plan, Public Works Director, Zack Ratcliff, Road Work, Resurfacing, Snake Nation, Ridge Road, North Old Aska, Harrison & Ada, Old Loving Road, Mabry Lane, Wise Road, Wright Mill Road, Elrod, Blue Bird, Aster Lane, Old Chapel Road, Queen Avenue off of Galloway, Old Dial Road, Mobile Circle, Lowery Road/Brown Mill Road, Mount Herman Road, Hilltop Circle, Doublehead Gap Road, Cypress Lane, Old Skennah Gap Road, Devils Den, Budget 2018, Tax Assessors

Points of Interest for the 2018 Budget.

Fannin County Finance Director Robin Gazaway presented the board with the latest county budget reports through the month of February.
This report shows that the county is currently $1,397,958 under budget.

“Everybody is under budget except for the tax assessors,” Gazaway explained of the report, “but most of that is the approval of the new vehicles that were received.”

Of the departments, Sosebee commented, “They are watching the budget real well.”

Johnson, also satisfied with the report, said that it is a positive sign that the departments are being frugal with their budgets.

“I would like to thank them for being frugal with the money rather than the opposite and seeing things strained,” Johnson added. “It shows good budgeting process.”

Discussions of funding the remaining balance of the new fire station and E-911 facility were also brought up, with Gazaway presenting the option of the county borrowing money from itself and eliminating having to pay interest and fees through a standard loan.

The commissioners agreed that borrowing money from the county’s general fund was the best option, but tabled the final approval for two weeks so that research can be done on how and when the county will be able to make repayment.

 

 

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

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Comissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Finance Director, Robin Gazaway, Fire Station, E-911, Windy Ridge Road, Loan, Bonds, Retirement Plan, ACCG Insurance, 401A Defined Contribution Plan, Public Works Director, Zack Ratcliff, Road Work, Resurfacing, Snake Nation, Ridge Road, North Old Aska, Harrison & Ada, Old Loving Road, Mabry Lane, Wise Road, Wright Mill Road, Elrod, Blue Bird, Aster Lane, Old Chapel Road, Queen Avenue off of Galloway, Old Dial Road, Mobile Circle, Lowery Road/Brown Mill Road, Mount Herman Road, Hilltop Circle, Doublehead Gap Road, Cypress Lane, Old Skennah Gap Road, Devils Den, Budget 2018, Tax Assessors

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Board of Commissioners agree on new option for fire station funding

Fannin County EMA/EMS, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Fannin County Finance Director Robin Gazaway presented the Board of Commissioners (BOC) with a new option for financing the remaining balance of the new Fire Station One and E-911 center being constructed on Windy Ridge Road.

At the Feb. 27 BOC meeting, discussion was brought up about how to finance the remaining balance to construct this new facility.

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

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Comissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Finance Director, Robin Gazaway, Fire Station, E-911, Windy Ridge Road, Loan, Bonds

Construction continues at site of new Fannin County fire station and E-911 center.

The BOC, under former county commission Chairman Bill Simonds, had agreed to a budget of $2.5 million to complete this project, but bids came in higher than projected.

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton explained, “We really didn’t know until we got the bids last year, there were two of them, and we didn’t open those bids, I believe, until the last meeting in May, and the low bid with all the factors in there was $3 million. Almost exactly that number.”

“It’s not that we spent more money. We just did a contract that was a little bit more money than they had originally estimated it was going to cost,” Gazaway further clarified.

At the February BOC meeting, Gazaway revealed that she had been looking into possible ways to finance the difference between the approved amount and the contract and told commissioners that she had been in contact with bond companies for possible loan information.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson made it very clear that for him this was not an option: ““I’m not in favor of getting a bond.”

After more research, Gazaway presented the BOC at the March 27 meeting with an interest-free loan option. This option would essentially allow the county to borrow money from itself via the general fund.

“Legally, the auditors have approved this,” Helton said of the new loan option.

To complete the project, the county would need to borrow approximately $650,000 from the general fund. By going this route, Gazaway explained that it would save the county roughly $100,000 in interest and an additional $30,000 in fees.

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee pointed out that the need to come up with the extra funding is more urgent since the completion date of the project is expected to be June of this year, and the initial completion date was scheduled for September or October.

“This is far and above the best option we have to finish the station,” Helton shared his thoughts with the board.

“I think the only way to do it is interest-free,” Johnson agreed, “and we are using the county’s money to build a county facility while maintaining our fund balance.”

Johnson stressed that paying back the loan and balancing county funds would need to be a priority in this transaction.

All three commissioners expressed favor for pursuing this option but tabled the item for an additional two weeks to allow more research to be done on ways in which the loan will be repaid.

 

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

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