Commissioners approve hazard pay for county-employed emergency services

Board of Commissioners, News
hazard pay

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Fannin County first responders, firefighters, and sheriff’s office employees will be receiving hazard pay for their efforts during the pandemic. The commissioners finally reached an understanding on the subject in the November 24, 2020 meeting.

“These EMS workers, sheriff’s department, fire department, they can’t telefix anyone. They have to be right there with them, hands-on, dealing with them absolutely directly,” Post One Earl Johnson stated. “I feel even stronger about it now than our last meeting… If anybody is deserving of the $500 hazard pay, it’s our first responders at this moment.”

Read previous meeting hazard pay article.

Post Two Glenn Patterson agreed with Johnson and added that “you’re never going to have 100 percent support in anything you do. I think this would increase morale and give workers financial security and confidence.

Full and part-time paramedics, firefighters, sheriff’s deputies, jailers, school resource officers, and first responders will receive $500 or $250 depending on their employment status.

“If they’re employed by Fannin County full-time $500, part-time $250,” Johnson clarified. “

However, volunteer firefighters won’t be receiving any hazard pay.

“I think their name says it all. They’re not full-time, not that I don’t appreciate them. I think that was the big sticking point when we first started talking about this. How do you distinguish between, you know, people that are active volunteer firefighters and people that are still volunteer firefighters, but they’re not able to volunteer much…I think it would be hard to be fair with volunteers,” Johnson explained. “No one came up with a definitive way to do it and do it fairly. As of right now, it would be hard to include them in this.”

Patterson added that maybe after the first of the year, the county could consider an incentive for the volunteers.
Elected officials and department heads aren’t eligible to receive hazard pay.

The total amount for the county would be between $50,000 and $65,000. However, the money is reimbursable through the $1.3 million provided to Fannin County through the CARES Act.

Technically, Fannin County will experience less of a financial burden than neighboring counties for hazard pay. For example, Pickens County awarded its first responders $2,000 in hazard pay.

Fannin can’t award pay retroactively, so they must issue it in upcoming pay periods. However, Chairman Stan Helton and Post One Johnson can’t approve anything past December 31.

“If we’re dealing with federal money, I want to make sure that we’re not going to do anything that’s going to put us in a bind for next year. The retroactive pay that was discussed last meeting was a game-changer. This is an important thing that we’re trying to get to a decision, but it’s important stuff here that we don’t mess it up,” Chairman Helton explained.

Ultimately, the board left it up to the financial department to decide it a lump sum or 4-increments based on county employees’ most tax beneficial outcome.

Johnson made the motion, Patterson seconded, and all three commissioners voted in favor of it.

COVID-19 hazard pay tabled for frontline workers

News
hazard pay disaster planning

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Commissioners decided to indefinitely table CARES Act hazard pay until receiving more information from the state.

With several unanswered questions about eligibility and everchanging guidelines from the state, the board decided to hold on accepting COVID-19 hazard pay. The item can be brought up again by the new administration in January 2021 or if new information becomes available. There’s no deadline by which to spend the money.

Several other counties have begun accepting hazard funds, but no one appears to follow a standard aside from frontline public safety employees qualify. However, the guidelines continually change the meaning of public safety employees. As of September 8, the sheriff department, firefighters, 911, and EMS/EMA were listed as approved to receive hazard funds.

Volunteer firefighters could receive $10 per call, but that isn’t a finalized plan, just a proposal.

“What’s legal for us to pay?” asked Post One Earl Johnson.

County Attorney Lynn Doss confirmed that anyone under the EMS/EMA umbrella should qualify for hazard pay.

“I’m not going to make the final say on who gets what when they don’t work for me every day. I would like to feel very comfortable with recommendations from [department heads],” added Johnson.

No one wanted to release funds to employees that wouldn’t ultimately be reimbursable through the CARES Act.

Fannin County received notification in June about CARES Act funding, but it didn’t trickle down to smaller municipalities until later. Initially, they believed the CARES Act funds needed to be spent by September 1, but hazard pay didn’t fall under that deadline.

If local communities don’t follow the state’s guidelines, it is possible for the state to revoke those CARES Act funds.

County Attorney Doss will ask around the state to see the consensus about spending CARES Act hazard pay funds.

Post Two Glenn Patterson made a motion to table the issue until further clarification or knowledge of the deadline. Chairman Stan Helton seconded, and it was unanimously approved.

Property taxes remain low in Fannin County

Uncategorized
property taxes increase non-critical state of emergency 2020 Budget

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Fannin Commissioners set the overall county millage rate at 14.253 mills and accepted the county and school system’s rollbacks.

Fannin County Schools rolled their millage rate back from 10.593 to 10.391 mills on Thursday, August 27. Previously, commissioners proposed to roll the county portion of the millage rate back to 3.938 to 3.862 mills. Typically, Fannin’s millage rate is one of the five lowest in Georgia.

“ The coronavirus, it’s effected [every person in one way or another.] At this current time, I don’t see any way of even thinking about a tax increase that would be my ten cents,” Post One Earl Johnson stated.

The county-side of the millage rate accounts for around 35 percent of the tax revenues. It affects all property owners or renters living in Fannin. The larger portion of county revenues come from SPLOST, LOST, and hotel/motel collections, and those taxes continue to do well during the pandemic.

“The millage rate really gets to the heart of the citizens here,” Chairman Stan Helton added. “Many of them are elderly…and low-income folks that live here on a fixed income. I feel a necessity just like you do on keeping the millage rate on these folks as low as we can.”

In the past, Fannin decided to use SPLOST, LOST, and hotel/motels funds on some public safety and capital outlay projects.

“As the county has grown, we’ve put those tax collections on the right group, and that’s primarily the visitors and tourists that we’re blessed in this county to have,” Helton said.

He continued to stress that the county isn’t cheating public safety or any other department but easing the burden of people who struggle.

Johnson included that he hoped, at the beginning of 2020, he hoped to maintain the millage rate to take advantage of new growth. The 2019 audit report revealed an additional $381,000 in property taxes just from new developments. However, 2020 had other plans with COVID-19 and widespread unemployment.

Post Two Glenn Patterson wasn’t present at the meeting due to technical difficulties over the teleconference meeting.

Fannin “preparing for growth” according to 2019 audit

News
Fannin growth audit

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – New auditors believed Fannin County demonstrated acceptable money management practices and “preparing for growth” during the 2019 audit presentation.

Amanda Wilkson, CPA from BatesCarter Company, presented their overall findings for the 2019 audit.

Fannin received a clean/unmodified opinion for 2019, which is the best report a government organization under audit can attain. The financial statements were presented fairly, with generally accepted accounting principles.

“We have audited all departments, funds, and the elected officials of Fannin County,” Wilkson explained. “There are also component units included in this set of financial states that appropriately show the [county’s] full reach.”

Component units are the development authority, department of public health (DPH), and water authority. Another company conducted the DPH and water authority audits.

In Fannin County’s General Fund, revenues in total exceeded expenditures by $313,000, meaning the county collected more money than spent. Overall, revenues increased by approximately three percent from 2018. The total increase is typically related to property and sales taxes, which grew by $909,000 in 2019.

Post One Earl Johnson asked Wilkson to account for the property tax increase since the millage rate remained the same in 2019. She confirmed that new growth and assessments led to the property tax increase.

“There’s comparable growth to the [county] population and activity,” Wilkson said when discussing her research.

When comparing the 2019 revenues to the budgeted expectations, revenues with up by $1.35 million. Motor vehicle taxes were over budget by $396,000; LOST exceeded the budget by $734,000; Insurance premium tax was up $102,000, and charges for services went up by $273,000. The costs for services increase was mainly related to the ambulance service fee.

“The reason that a lot of these revenues exceed the budget is [that] conservative budget projections for revenue is the [best practices] for the budgeting process. [Many] of these increases in revenue lines show growth population increase and increase in activity in the county. You want to be conservative in [assuming growth],” Wilkson added.

Overall expenditures were down by $999,000 or five percent from 2018. Health claims decreased by $92,000, and capital outlay purchases dropped by $904,000.

The county spent $359,000 less than expected in the 2019 budget. Wilkson cited salaries and benefits coming in at approximately 2.7 percent less than the budget.

Intergovernmental revenue from payment in lieu of tax (PILT) agreements decreased by $352,000. The TVA PILT is a direct result of a reduction in activity from 2018.

Ambulance service charges increased by $288,000.

As for hotel/motel tax, transfers into the fund grew by $293,000, indicating continued growth in Fannin’s tourism economy.

Proceeds from debt issuance decreased by $550,000. “These proceeds mean that there was a new debt that the county approved in 2018, and no new dept was [comparatively] approved in 2019,” stated Wilkson.

In 2019, the county added to the general fund by spending less than the revenue, so revenues and fund balances grew. Fannin County had seven months’ worth of expenditures on hand at the end of December 2019.

2019 marked the first time in three years that the county didn’t outspend it’s revenue.

“The county does not need to rely on tax anticipation notes or have to get funding to be able to cash flow those expenditures,” Wilkson explained.

 The excise lodging tax received $2 million in collections. $1 million went to the Chamber of Commerce, and a net transfer of $573,000 went to the general fund.

SPLOST brought in $6.1 million in collections. $6.7 million of SPLOST funds went to projects for the road department, intergovernmental disbursements, and the administration building.

At the end of 2019, the contractual debt for Fannin was $3 million. All the debt should mature within the next three years.

Chairman Helton confirmed that the $2.2 million on the courthouse doesn’t include the 2020 payments.

According to Wilkson, counties of similar sizes to Fannin average around $8.6 million in debt.

The 2019 audit report will be available to the public on the Fannin County website.

Getting Fannin residents jobs during a pandemic

Community, News
Fannin jobs

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Fannin County’s faring better than neighboring counties when it comes to unemployment. Currently, at 4.6 percent unemployment, Fannin is the lowest in the Northwest Georgia Region. The Fannin County Development Authority has also taken measures to assist citizens in finding jobs. 

When COVID-19 closings hit the community the hardest, it jumped up to nine percent in April. Before the pandemic, Fannin only had three percent unemployment.

The Fannin County Development Authority created a job board for Fannin County to help combat COVID-19-related layoffs. It tracks who’s hiring within the community and features employers from several industries. As of July 26, the board had over 25 jobs posted.

“It’s not all-inclusive, not meant to replace the department of labor or any other job posting. It’s just a way for me to track what’s going on. Often times, I’ll get calls about people looking for employment, and I can easily give them the job board,” explained Fannin County Development Authority Executive Director Christie Gribble.

Commissioners thanked Gribble for all her hard work.

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has partnered with the development authority for a remote work pilot program. 50 Fannin County citizens will be given free memberships to Flex Jobs to assist them in finding remote career opportunities.

“It’s a well-respected database of remote jobs, so jobs that you can do at your home…I was very happy to be selected to participate,” said Gribble.

TVA will track Flex Jobs applications to see who in the area finds work through the program.

The memberships are designed for people currently living in Fannin County and want to remain in Fannin. The opportunities are all remote or partially remote.

“[It’s] not to replace employment opportunities that are available in-person in our community, but these are for skill sets that might be better suited for someone else. There’s a lot of data engineering jobs that we might not have here locally, but someone could do from home,” Gribble added.

Flex jobs website also offers resume reviews, job-seeking coaching, and employment articles. An annual membership costs around $50 or $6.99 per week.

Fannin County residents can go to the development authority website for anyone who might be interested in free membership.

Financial impact of courthouse cleaning, new COVID-19 protocols

News
cleaning

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – After experiencing a COVID-19 exposure, the entire Fannin County Courthouse closed for deep-cleaning and sanitization. Due to the unexpected health hazard, the county approved a $70,059 emergency expenditure to pay American Property Restoration for its service.

Chairman Stan Helton stated that he is continuing to try a negotiate the price down, and the $70,059 would be the maximum price. However, the state of Georgia also released CARES act funds to smaller counties for COVID-19-related expenses. These funds should cover the cleaning cost.

According to a letter of guidance from Gov. Brian Kemp, local governments must apply to receive their share of the 30% of $1.23 billion. Once processed, the allocation will be available for “immediate advancement.” A local government has to provide supporting documentation for qualified expenditures.

American Property Restoration in action. Image courtesy of the company.

22 people in hazmat suits cleaned the courthouse using foggers, fans, and sanitizer. The fans circulated sanitizer throughout the ventilation system to disinfect every inch of the courthouse.

“We have to be careful in the future. No one should feel at fault if they actually brought this in. It’s an invisible enemy,” said Helton.

Helton admitted that he underestimated the square footage of the courthouse at 69,752 sq. ft. He initially estimated cost would be between $50K and $60K. American Property Restoration charged full price for 30,000 sq. ft. and half-price for the remaining 39,752 sq. ft. However, he asked them to continue looking for rate discounts.

“It’s a huge cost, but the good thing is there are funds set aside for us to help recoup. I honestly believe something had to be done because the alternative is more cases break out. It would be said that no one did anything. I’m glad all the employers and taxpayers that come in are safe yesterday and today from any lingering infection,” added Post One Earl Johnson.

Since the exposure was an emergency, the county didn’t have time to take bids on the cleaning process.

Courthouse Protocols 

The Board of Commissioners office instated a mask mandate for its employees and asked them to minimize visiting other departments. Marks will be required when visiting other county departments or in the hallways. The Board of commissioners also encouraged other elected offices to start the same or similar policy.

Board of Commissioners employees must wear masks inside the courthouse. Visitors will receive temperature checks.

All courthouse employees and visitors must enter through the front of the building to have their temperature checked. If an employee runs a temperature, then they will be asked to get a COVID-19 test and can’t return until they receive a negative result. The security area will also provide hand sanitizer to visitors and employees. 

As for the public, the commissioners can’t mandate masks inside the courthouse.

“We may be able department by department to department to ask the employees to make masks mandatory in their work areas. We can’t legally demand that the public do that. We can ask them, urge, plead. We can strongly recommend that they wear a mask, but we can’t prevent someone from coming in here without a mask,” explained Helton.

However, in offices, not inside the courthouse, like the 911 call center, all visitors must wear masks.

“We need to recognize this thing is still around. We need to follow through and be diligent. Don’t let your guard down, don’t get lax and do these things,” said Post Two Glenn Patterson about following guidelines.

Johnson echoed that everyone needs to be as careful as possible, but still live their life. With numerous out of towners in Fannin, it’s impossible to prevent people from catching the virus. “Be as smart and careful as you can possibly be,” stated Johnson.

As for potential future exposures, county attorney Lynn Doss suggested following the GaDOE and DPH outline. If someone tested positive and they wore a mask, socially distanced, and not in contact with others for more than 15 minutes, then the immediate area would be closed and sanitized.

Read more about the COVID-19 exposures in Gilmer and Fannin Courthouses here.

Runoff : Helton and Hensley answer questions relating to Fannin County

Election 2020, News, Politics
Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Election, Runoff, August, Stan Helton, Jamie Hensley, Key Issues, Board of Registration and Elections, Early Voting, Republican

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The August 11, 2020 runoff is fast approaching and only one seat in Fannin County will be seen on the ballot. That seat is for Fannin County Commission Chairman. Incumbent Stan Helton faces Challenger Jamie Hensley for the Republican nomination.

Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Election, Runoff, August, Stan Helton, Jamie Hensley, Key Issues, Board of Registration and Elections, Early Voting, Republican

With no Democratic nomination for the seat, the winner of the August runoff will be the presumed winner of Fannin County’s next Chairman.

FYN sent several questions to both Incumbent Helton and Challenger Hensley, so that voters will know where the two candidates stand on key topics in Fannin County.

 

SPLOST and tax collections in general are expected to take a hit due to statewide business closures. How do you plan to navigate the areas impacted by less revenue?

HeltonCounty revenues and SPLOST were down in the latter part of March and April. However, YTD our TOTAL County revenues are down only 2% and LOST & SPLOST collections are actually slightly ahead. We have put a strong emphasis on watching our costs and thru May – the County is actually 8% under budget on expenditures. We are already addressing potential shortfalls by delaying any Capital projects that will not hamper essential services. We also plan to scale back paving this year to about 50% from our previous rate which will keep the Roads and Bridges expenditures to a minimum. That will help protect our SPLOST fund balance.

Hensley –  As it stands now there will be State funding cuts that will affect Fannin County, but locally I would need to see the final numbers to make decisions on whether or not steps need to be taken to balance any budget issues. Fannin County has shown to be resilient in the past and right now the economy in our area is demonstrating that resilience again.

 

Recently the City of Blue Ridge took steps toward annexation of county territory. Would you be for the city expanding its limits? 

HeltonThe County has not received any official documents from the City of Blue Ridge and the article in the County news organ is all I can respond to. It appears that the primary impact would be to extend City liquor laws into the County without an approved referendum by the voters. I am not in favor of excluding the voters on this important issue and oppose Annexation without a thorough and proper process.

Hensley – At this time, I would not be for the City of Blue Ridge annexing portions of the county. There needs to be planned growth in Fannin County and there needs to be a focus on infrastructure and public services being able to handle the change and growth. I worry that annexation and the large developments that were proposed could negatively impact residents. For example, with property value and taxes. There needs to be citizen input on these major decisions in the county.

 

Many states and cities are increasing property taxes to make up for lost revenue. Would you be for increasing the millage rate to make up for this lost revenue? If not, how would you manage oversight on property values to ensure that inflation does not occur?

HeltonRaising Millage rates and increasing property taxes is a last resort. With the cooperation of the Chamber , the BOC has voted to raise the Hotel/Motel tax from 5% to 6% which is paid by tourists. Also, continuing to challenge other County offices to find budget savings is another alternative to raising the Millage rate. The Tax Assessors Board and office is responsible for managing the property valuation in Fannin County, not the Board of Commissioners. The continued influx of people that move into Fannin County buying property and building homes will naturally increase values for all property owners.

Hensley – My goal is to keep Fannin County’s Millage rate the lowest in the State of Georgia. That is something that we have been proud of for many years and I would like to continue to maintain this status. Being proactive by looking at the overall county budget and finding ways to save taxpayers’ money within our operations is the action I would take before considering raising the Millage rate.

 

The purchase of the Whitepath property has been divisive in the community. Do you feel it was a good purchase and how would you move forward with the project?

Helton – It was a GREAT investment for Fannin County and was MANDATED by the voters on the 2016 SPLOST referendum. $3,150,000 was allocated for this goal and we have used $1,300,000 cash out of that fund balance to make this purchase ( which was voted on in an open meeting back in May 2019 ). There is $1,850,000 SPLOST available to repurpose that building and possibly move the library over and double their space from the current crowded location in the Courthouse. This is a great value for the County and is less expensive than building a new Administration Building.  The BOC has simply followed through with what the voters already approved in November 2016- – – namely, move the administrative functions out of the crowded Courthouse to improve parking and citizen access. There should be no controversy in doing what the people voted on and mandated.

Hensley – I understand the need for residents to have easier access to Fannin County public services. The current location of the courthouse has issues like parking that poses a problem for many. I do have questions on whether the Whitepath building is the best option to relocate these services. I understand that the building was purchased with SPLOST funds for this specific reason, but would like to propose another option, if possible, to explore. I would like to see the building used to bring industry and jobs back to the county. With the grant that the library received, I would like to look into a stand alone library. Space in the courthouse, as well as parking, would be freed up just by moving the library.

 

Are there any areas of our local government that you feel need to be looked into and possibly reformed? How would you go about making changes?

Helton – The voters have a chance for reform every four years – – – – it’s called an election and candidates should present their ideas for change or reform to the citizens before the election. Voters can then make their choice on what needs changing.  I think Fannin County works pretty well and I don’t support expanding the BOC members or making a change to our type of local government.

Hensley – There are departments within our local government, like any government, that could improve. A way to get these improvements would be to stop using Fannin County as a training facility for workers. When we find quality workers we need to offer competitive wages and benefits to keep these workers here. I would look to make all departments self sufficient by hiring and retaining quality employees.

 

There is concern of a second wave of Covid-19 hitting in the Fall. What steps would you take for public safety if this were to happen? How do you feel about the county’s response to the first wave in March?

Helton – There have been lessons learned from the Federal Government to the State of Georgia on down to the local level in dealing with this unforeseen pandemic. Fannin County initiated our Health Emergency Declaration Order nine days before the Governor implemented his HEDO. I feel our response was timely and effective in slowing down the COVID – 19 spread by reducing the influx of tourists into Fannin from highly infected areas outside the County. If a second wave hits again the Governor would issue orders that would reimplement his previous HEDO (supercedes County orders ) and we would by law fall under the State decree.

Hensley – Fannin County handled the first wave of Covid-19 very well considering the information that was presented to us at the time. This is completely new territory for everyone. The decisions made during March laid the groundwork for how to tackle similar situations in the future. If there were further outbreaks causing a need for action, I would use the guidelines and recommendations given by the State and the CDC, along with common sense, to form a plan of action for our county.

 

What personal qualities do you feel sets you apart from your opponent? Why do you feel like you are the better person for the job?

HeltonI have a BBA Degree from the University of Georgia and thirty five years running large business during my Oil Industry career. I’m an ACCG Certified County Commissioner and have the experience to run a $28.5 million dollar County budget. I’m willing to make tough decisions that benefit the citizens and not special interests that are moving here or are already part of the establishment. I am the only candidate that has NOT accepted any donations , and not compromised by nepotism or favoritism.

Hensley – I have served the public for over 30 years operating a business. I am a citizen of Fannin County like everyone else. Over the years I have listened to the good and I have listened to the bad, and as Chairman, I will continue to listen and to get out and interact with residents. I want to unite and to move forward on common ground and I will do this by listening to and working with the people. I know that not every decision can make everyone happy, but I will always do my best to make the right decision.

 

***NOTE regarding the upcoming runoff***

Early voting will begin July 20th and end on August 7th

Hours : 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday

Location: Fannin County Board of Registration and Elections, 400 West Main St., Suite 301.

The Board of Registration and Elections will be practicing social distancing, have a sanitizing table set up and will also be sanitizing the office and voting equipment throughout the day.

 All Precincts will be open on August 11, 2020 7:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. Social distancing and sanitizing will be observed in all Precincts.

 If you voted in the June 9, 2020 General Primary, you must vote the same ballot style you selected then, with the exception of Nonpartisan. Nonpartisan will be allowed to select either party’s ballot style.

If you did not vote in the June 9, 2020 General Primary then either ballot style can be chosen.

 The Board of Registration and Elections are accepting ballot applications, as well as poll worker applications . If anyone has any questions please call 706-632-7740.

Financial report delivers good news for Fannin County

News
Fannin County

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – The county financial report through May 2020 provided some good news in the era of COVID-19 economic uncertainty.

Overall, Fannin’s revenue was only off by two percent compared to 2019, and SPLOST and LOST collections were slightly ahead of last year. LOST and SPLOST went up around $50,000.

“We were really doing very well up until the mid-point of March when COVID hit, and we had to restrict a lot of tourism in the county,” Helton explained. “From mid-March until the end of April, that period was very bad on revenue, but in May, those numbers are starting to come back.”

Risk management also came in at eight percent under budget – insurance normally goes over budget due to claims.

Public works’ general fund budget was under $129,170, and new SPLOST for public works was under $950,531.

“The public works department been doing a lot of things to try and keep that capital expenditure, and SPLOST expenditure down,” said Chairman Stan Helton.

LOST and SPLOST collections through April 2020.

The county paid half of its debt for 2020, which left three payments before paying off the new courthouse building entirely. The recreation department was $54,534 under budget. The fire department went over because of the lease payments. Sheriff’s office had capital outlay expenses that resulted in an overage, and jail’s overage resulted from inmate medical expenses. However, the overages should go down as the year continues.

The total expenditures dropped eight percent through May 2020.

“That’s good that we are down by eight percent because when you look at the revenue, we anticipated for this year, through May, it’s off two percent – that’s not as bad as we thought it would be at this point,” explained Helton.

All departments previously received instruction to review their expenses and make necessary cuts to prevent shortfalls.

“It’s a very good sign that it’s only off by that percentage. I hope the monies continue to come in, and we stay on the line we’re on now, and hopefully, it will get a little better,” added Post One Earl Johnson.

Most departments appeared under budget almost half-way through the year.

Department Business

Clerk of Superior Court Dana Chastain presented a plan to build an interior wall within her office to allow everyone to conduct business safely. The wall would be in the shape of an “L” and would protect her staff and clients from potential germs. The Clerk’s capital outlay budget would pay for the addition, and it will cost $35,377.

“The way we have always done business is it’s an open concept. explained Chastain. “We’re like a hub to do business, and if we were to shut down, banks couldn’t lend money. They couldn’t get their filings timely.”

Chastain also outlined her current plan to allow attorneys into the office on Fridays and Saturdays. She also sent her staff home on those days to keep them safe, and she would deep clean the area.

Fannin County

Clerk of Superior Court Dana Chastain

“I want the public to know that they have access to anything that’s in my office. All they have to do is request it, and like I said, we have a great staff,” said Chastain.

Another $600 received Commissioner approval to repair the rain damage in the Clerk of Superior Court’s office. Rain leaked through the window and resulted in mold growth.

Road Paving

Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff gained approval to bid out a road paving job for three roads. The county would use LMIG funds from GDOT and a 30 percent match from the county to pay for the work. LMIG would contribute $732,476.14, and the county would pay $219,742.84.

If Fannin doesn’t use the LMIG funds from GDOT, the money disappears, or the county could be required to pay it back.

The three roads are Galloway (3.5miles), Curtis Switch (2.2 miles), and Sugar Creek (1 mile). Curtis Switch and Sugar Creek will receive an extra foot of asphalt to widen the shoulder.

All bids must include a third-party inspector to monitor the work.

Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff

Land Lease Agreement

The commissioners accepted a land lease agreement with Verizon Wireless for the company to build a 250 ft. cell tower. The tower would increase cell service by a 3-mile radius and be located next to the public works department. Fannin collected a $500 signing bonus and $9,000 payments over five years. If renewed after five years, the amount increases by 10 percent.

Commissioners extended the UGA Extension Agent Contract for another year. Fannin pays $7,400 in employee compensation and benefits for the local extension agent.

 

Chamber delivers tourism report to commissioners

Board of Commissioners, Fannin County Chamber

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Since short-term rentals reopened on May 1, Chamber of Commerce President Jan Hackett affirmed that people are returning to the mountains, but numbers are down from previous years.

Hackett delivered an update on the economic status of tourism in Fannin since the shutdown. It included shops, restaurants, lodging, and attractions.

“According to the vacation rental people, people are definitely coming, and the first weekend was probably busier than the second,” stated Hackett. “The first weekend it seemed to be a whole lot of second homeowners coming to open up their cabins and check on them.

61 percent of the rentals are reportedly full next weekend and the visitors are supposedly bringing supplies with them.

However, it seems like people make the decision on a whim instead of planning the trips out well in advance.

“They are planning their trips late. It’s like they are planning to come to the mountains in a week,” relayed Hackett.

Memorial Day is currently 55 percent booked, but June and July rental remain predominately empty.

A statistics company, AirDNA shows 30 percent of rentals booked for May 30, 27 percent the weekend of June 6, and 24 percent for July 4.

Hotel/ motel tax was down $60,000 dollars in April collections, which is based on March business. The county and chamber split the tax in half. The county’s amount goes toward the operating budget, and the chamber uses the tax to market for the county.

Hackett expects April collections to be down as much as $100,000 since Gov. Kemp halted all rentals with his shelter in place order.

“Basically, that looks like $80,000 down for the two months that we’ve been closed at least part of the time,” explained Hackett.

She added that April and May are some of Fannin’s slowest months, but May could be interesting because it will probably see more business than normal as people can travel and telework.

Of the 52 restaurants listed on the chamber’s website, only 13 are open for inside dining – nine in Blue Ridge and three in McCaysville. Hackett said around 20 percent of the restaurants are open and some only on weekends. Most restaurants are only open for dinner as well.

“I don’t expect that we’re going to have a whole lot of more restaurants open up until the governor relaxes some of the restrictions because it’s very restrictive and it would be hard for some of them to do it,” the chamber president pondered.

Kemp did make a few changes to his restrictions on May 12. Now restaurants can have up to 10 patrons per 300 sq. ft. of public space and seat groups up to ten people.

However, she assessed that 90 percent of the shops are open at least part of the week, mainly weekends. McCaysville shops are around 50 percent.

Hackett also spoke with Cesar Martinez, Downtown Development Authority Chairman. He said that downtown Blue Ridge is busy on weekends but not as busy as last year at this time. During the week, all businesses are slow.

He also reported to Hackett that the businesses require social distancing and offer hand sanitizer. Not all require masks and some customers are resisting wearing masks.

“Mercier’s is open, and they are requiring people to wear masks and they’ve met with some resistance from customers who just will leave rather than wear a mask,” said Hackett.

The chamber has provided six masks for each of the members who have requested them and delivered masks to shops that are open in Blue Ridge and McCaysville.

The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway is closed until June 1 at this time. The chamber’s visitor’s center is still closed until at least Memorial Day and the smaller centers will be closed even longer.

For those looking for more information and updates about businesses, visit blueridgemountains.com.

Feature image courtesy of Fannin County Chamber of Commerce.

Board opposes proposed annexation by city of Blue Ridge

Board of Commissioners, News
annexation

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.

The proposed annexation extends down Hwy. 515 and Hwy. 5.

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.

Graham gives COVID-19 update to commissioners

Board of Commissioners, Community
COVID-19

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – With COVID-19 spreading across the country, EMA Director Robert Graham presented an update on the virus during the March Board of Commissioners meeting.

“You might start seeing a spike in cases. We’re probably going to get some cases in Fannin County,” said Graham. “There might very well be some cases in Fannin County now. People might think they have a cold, when they have this Coronavirus, and they’ll get better and never know it.”

At this time, Georgia has six confirmed cases and 16 unconfirmed cases. Graham relayed to the board that the hospital has contracted with a lab that can test for it now. This will result in more cases being uncovered in the area. However, it will reach a peak and start going back down.

COVID-19, now officially classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), is part of a large family of viruses like MERS and SARS. Common coronaviruses include some that cause mild upper-respiratory symptoms like the common cold.

The 2019 disease can be transferred from person to person, and the first case was identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. It spreads like the flu through respiratory droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people close by within six feet.

“Eventually my opinion from everything I am reading from the CDC and department of health, we’re probably going to start thinking of it like the flu,” said Graham.

COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Symptoms appear within two to 14 days after exposure. The average incubation period is five days.

80 percent of patients with a confirmed case of COVID-19 have mild symptoms. In severe cases, patients have developed pneumonia in both lungs, and in others, patients have died. The current death toll in the United States is 29 out of a total of 938 cases. Also, 38 states and the District of Columbia have reported coronavirus cases.

“None of us have immunity to it because it’s a virus that’s never been around before. Our bodies haven’t had a chance to build up immunity to it,” said Graham.

Those at high risk for developing coronavirus are the elderly 60+ and the young, but as of March 11, 2020, no child has died from the virus. Those with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease.

Prevention

The best way according to the CDC and Georgia Department of Public Health is to wash your hands, regularly and for 20 seconds. If you can’t use soap, then use a 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer. To make sure that you’re washing your hands long enough, sing “Happy Birthday” twice or the chorus “Raspberry Beret” twice by Prince.

Also, you should avoid touching your face, eyes, mouth, or nose; cover your sneeze or cough with a tissue and then throw it away, stay home if you’re sick; and avoid close contact with people who are sick.  Finally, get a flu shot. It wouldn’t prevent COVID-19, but it will lessen flu symptoms which will make the jobs of health facilities easier.

Courtesy of Georgia Department of Health.

“Maybe it’s better than shaking hands, to fist bump or use the elbows,” stated Graham.

When it comes to the home, everyone needs to regularly clean all surfaces, such as tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs, and cabinet handles, as well as all electronic devices.

Not everyone will have the ability to be tested for COVID-19. If you’re feeling sick, call your healthcare provider if you have a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing; had been in contact with someone with the virus; or recently traveled to an area with COVID-19.

Your healthcare provider will work with the department of health to determine if you need to take a test for Coronavirus. However, those who suspect they might have the virus must call their provider before going to the doctor’s office, emergency room, or urgent care.

Preparation

The department of health and CDC advise people to keep an adequate supply of water, food and pet food in your home. If you take prescription drugs, contact your health care provider about keeping an emergency supply at home.

“I don’t want anybody to start panicking or anything. We’ve heard reports of people in the county buying cases of hand sanitizer. That’s all well and good, except what happens when you buy it all and your neighbor doesn’t have any? When your neighbor doesn’t have any, they get the Coronavirus. You’ve got all the hand sanitizer, but they can’t protect themselves, so they’re going to pass it on eventually to you as well,” explained Graham.

He urged to just keep your normal amount of preparedness supplies on hand, don’t go overboard.

From the department of health:

  • Discuss with family members relatives, and friends to determine needs in the case of an infectious disease outbreak and make plans on how to care for higher-risk individuals.
  • Choose a room in your home that could be used to separate family members who become sick.
  • Create an emergency contact list of family members, friends, neighbors, health care providers, teachers, employers, and others.
  • Keep a working thermometer and medications, like decongestants, expectorants, and ibuprofen or acetaminophen on hand.
  • Know the preparedness plans of your children’s childcare, schools and/or colleges.
  • Plan for childcare should schools temporarily close.
  • Ask about your employers’ preparedness plans, including sick-leave policies and telework options.

“The biggest thing I can say is, just stay calm and wash your hands,” said Graham. “Don’t panic.”

Fannin becomes a Second Amendment Sanctuary County

Board of Commissioners, News

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – After an hour of passionate discussion from citizens, Fannin’s board of commissioners unanimously passed the Second Amendment Sanctuary resolution on Feb. 25, 2020.

The resolution states, “No agent, employee, or official of Fannin County, Georgia or any corporation doing business with the county shall provide material support or participate in any way the implementation of federal acts, orders, rules, laws, or regulations in violation of the Second Amendment.”

All three commissioners passed the resolution.

It goes on to say that, “The Board of Commissioners of Fannin County will not authorize or appropriate funds, resources, employees, agencies, contractors, buildings, detention centers, or offices for the purpose of enforcing or assisting in the enforcement of any element of any acts, laws, orders, mandates, rules, or regulations that infringe on the right to keep and bear arms.”

The piece of legislation closes with a declaration that any federal laws, rules, orders, or regulations that violate the Second Amendment or Article I Section I, Paragraph VIII of the Constitution will be considered invalid and “specifically rejected in Fannin County.”

“It is symbolic because county law does not supersede state law or federal law, but it is a very strong message to send,” explained Chairman Stan Helton. “There’s a way to resist this. As a board of commissioners, if we don’t fund certain actions, that makes it pretty difficult for someone to come in and do any confiscation or put in an order to the sheriff’s office do to that. There’s a number of ways to do this to resist – ways to respect our laws, but not lose our Second Amendment rights.”

Upon passage, the three commissioners received a standing ovation from the crowd, the majority supported the resolution. Fannin makes the 22nd Georgia county to officially recognize its support of the Second Amendment.

Community Response

Over 20 residents of Fannin County voiced their opinion on the resolution, both for and against. This took place before Helton read the legislation to the audience.

Several voiced their opposition to red flag laws, which gives a judge the option to take guns away from an individual they deem a threat.

Post Two Glenn Patterson thanked everyone for turning out to express their views and affirmed his support of the resolution. He also brought up the polarization in the United States.

“There’s no middle ground, and I remember someone running for President said, ‘I will take your guns’ and that woke me up. It kind set off an alarm that it could happen,” explained Patterson. “It’s time to speak now and show the state and federal officials what we believe in because we’ve got a voice right now.”

“I’m always going to support the Second Amendment, no matter what,” said Post One Earl Johnson. “The problem is, talking about symbolism, without your Second Amendment, you’re dependent on someone…I love our sheriff’s office and city law enforcement agencies, but in my home, my work, my family, if someone tries to harm me or my family, I’m not going to depend on [law enforcement]. There’s no way. I’m not going to be dependent on our government…I would urge you not to be dependent on anyone in government.”

Georgia’s House of Representatives currently has a bill similar to the aforementioned red flag laws, HB 435, Georgia Red Flag Protective Order Act. It allows residents or law enforcement to seek a superior court judge’s opinion if someone is a threat to themselves or others. If any cause is found, then the judge can order the individual to surrender all firearms and ammunition for a given amount of time. This bill has a low chance of passing in the House.

However, HB 751, Anti-Red Flag – Second Amendment Conservation Act asserts that anyone, including law enforcement, that tries to enforce a red flag law at either the federal or state level could face felony charges and a $5,000 fine. This bill also has a low passage chance in the House.

Sheriff Dane Kirby said he supports the Second Amendment rights of the people, “that [doesn’t] mean necessarily taking laws handed down by our federal or state government, and in a cowboyish way, standing up and saying, I’m not going to enforce that law. There are things that elected officials, citizens, and everybody else can do, other than just refuse to enforce laws that you think might be unconstitutional.”

He promised to do everything he can to prevent any unconstitutional law from being enforced in Fannin, but it has to be done “the right way.”

McCaysville Police Chief Michael Earley expressed his support of the Second Amendment and warned against government backstabbing of individual rights.

Additionally, Blue Ridge Police Chief Johnny Scearce stated that he “supports the Constitution – always have and always will.”

Noyes urged everyone to remember America is a democracy.

Citizen and business owner Barbara Noyes declared, “Criminals will still find a way to get weapons. Good abiding citizens have a right by the Second Amendment to always carry and bear arms to protect their families. Do not let a government become a dictatorship. We are a democracy, and we deserve to have guns to protect our families.”

A retired homicide and sex crimes investigator out of Miami, who now resides in Fannin, Jim Randazzo, spoke to the causation of crimes;

“We have laws against homicide, sex crimes, and drugs right now, yet it still occurs. What startling revelation are we going to have if we pass a law against guns that the bad guys are just going to go away? The bad guys are just going to stop? They don’t, they simply don’t,” he explained.

Randazzo made the point that criminals don’t abide by laws.

Randazzo also noted how many in Fannin carry guns responsibly, and the crime rates in the community are much lower than in Miami. Convicted felons aren’t going to stop committing crimes with the passage of a law.

Kathy Smyth spoke against becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary County:

“It sets a dangerous precedent as it would represent a blatant disregard for laws that may be passed by our elected leaders. Our democracy only works when people have faith in it and those who have been elected to govern them. Laws that have been passed and enacted should be followed that is what the rule of law means. We have the right to protest and demonstrate. Local governments also have the right to dissent and lobby for change…I would hope that Fannin County would take a leadership role in our state and respect and enforce any law that is passed by the government….I would ask you to seriously consider the message that this decision sends to the youth of Fannin County. Will we be a county that respects our laws or one that encourages lawlessness?”

Candidates Speak

Several candidates for Commission Chairman and Post One were in attendance and had an opportunity to make their viewpoints known.

Second Amendment Sanctuary

Post One Candidate Dixie Carter

First Post One Candidate Dixie Carter expressed her dissent with a resolution, “I feel these resolutions encourage lawlessness. If the state legislature passes a law, you’re going to tell your county deputy not to enforce that law? That doesn’t sound like following the Georgia Constitution. Also, I think these resolutions stir up fear and confusion in our community….Lastly, I think the sanctuary resolution is a marketing tool of the NRA, that’s where it started from, so I hope you guys don’t take the bait and pass this resolution and spend county dollars and time on this resolution.”

Debi Holcomb, who is also running for Post One, voiced support in Fannin becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary County.

 

“I do know that gun crime is very prevalent in the United States as it is all over the world. My family is a victim of that. My son at the age of 23, holding nothing, but a broken cue stick, was gunned down by a 17-year-old with an illegal gun that he stole. He would have had it no matter what the laws were. If they can’t get it legally, the criminals can get the gun no matter what,” said Holcomb.

Second Amendment Sanctuary

Post One candidate Debi Holcomb

Next, Chairman Candidate Vincent Davis addressed the room, “Our Second Amendment rights are to protect us from the tyranny of governments and for home protection… A lot of areas here, we don’t have a police department on every block…Crime happens in seconds, not minutes, so to defend our wives, children, families, it’s very important to have that Second Amendment right…10 counties in metro-Atlanta can control the rest of the state. It’s not to say that one day, we couldn’t have a Democrat governor, so that’s why it’s important to have this on the books.”

Second Amendment Sanctuary

Chairman candidate Vincent Davis

Another Chairman Candidate Bill Simonds addressed the growing socialist movement in America, “If you look at what’s going on in our country, two guys now are socialists, basically. Venezuela, and Hitler, was a socialist, that’s what these folks are going to do is try to take our guns. If they get in and do it, then next they take over us. So, I’m all for the Second Amendment and think we need to do everything in our power to keep it.”

Larry Sosebee, who also has declared his intent to run for Chairman, spoke out, “All for Secondment Amendment rights, still am, still will be. Y’all brought this to the table tonight, you see what response you’ve got. I think it should be brought up on resolution as soon as possible. I’m all for it, and I think most people in the audience are all for it.”

Jamie Hensley, Chairman candidate, couldn’t attend the Feb. 25 meeting.

Fannin County BOC Second Amendment Sanctuary County meeting.

Posted by Fetch Your News on Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Post One Earl Johnson won’t seek reelection

Board of Commissioners, Election, News
Post One Johnson

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – Post One Earl Johnson announced he wouldn’t seek reelection at the Feb. 25 Board of Commissioners’ meeting, citing family and negativity as reasons.

“I’ve been back and forth whether to announce reelection or not, through some recent events and changes with my family and my son, where he is going to attend college and numerous reasons. I’ve decided to announce that I will not be seeking reelection for Post One,” stated Johnson.

He remarked on the good and bad times he experienced during his seven and a half years as Post One Commissioner. However, Johnson felt that for the past three to four years, nothing good has been recognized and couldn’t see a reason to continue to serve.

“I enjoy my job; I’ve taken my job seriously. I’ve done everything I could possibly do to try and do a good job for the taxpayers,” explained Johnson. “In the current climate we have, people wanting more money, Sheriff’s Office wanting more money, Facebook ads, Facebook posts, what’s that’s going to entail, and I hate it for whoever serves on this board, what that means is higher taxes. If everybody gets what they want, it’s going to cause the county to have higher taxes.”

Additionally, Johnson noted the rarity of Tuesday’s meeting because the citizens in Fannin turned out to show support for the Second Amendment Sanctuary County Resolution.

“It felt nice for people to actually show us support for something, but this show tonight is very rare, very uncommon. We have five to ten people in this county…they haven’t found a thing that has went right in this county so far,” said Johnson. He wanted to give someone else a chance to solve county issues. It’s not as easy as other people seem to think.

Johnson’s tried to do his best by Fannin County for the past seven years.

Johnson called for a change in the way of thinking in Fannin County because much of the time, the commissioners receive derision from one or all sides. He mentioned shedding some light on the good things that the community pulls together to accomplish. For instance, officials tried to save flooded businesses in the county development authority building, but no one their efforts.

Instead, everyone focused on the Whitepath storage shed that flooded. According to Johnson, the shed had nothing to do with the building that was purchased in 2019.

 

“Somewhere along the line, we’re going to have to find a positive in Fannin County. We’re going to have to find a positive. We’re going to have to start working off a little bit of positive information because right now, no matter what side of any decision that is made, you’re wrong,” declared Johnson.

Also, the library development caused Johnson “angst and turmoil” because Speaker Ralston’s announcement caught him unaware and unprepared. The situation turned into one of the deciding factors for seeking reelection of not.

Johnson stated, “It’s all too premature, the library needs to figure out what they need on their own. They need to figure all those things out. I don’t do anything, and I hope I haven’t gentlemen or previous gentlemen, I haven’t ever made a decision that’s caused you any grief, and that’s all I do. All I expect from anyone else.”

Under constant scrutiny and negativity, he believed anyone would find it difficult to effectively lead the county. However, it might change with better people filling government positions.

“I hope Fannin County finds a better person than me because I haven’t been able to do it. I hope they find a smarter, more business savvy, more straight shooter than I am because that’s all I’ve ever been, and it hasn’t done me very well,” said Johnson.

Johnson has promised to fulfill his term and work with the board of commissioners but hopes for something to eventually “be right in Fannin County.” He thanked the citizens of Fannin County for allowing him to serve, and he looks forward to spending time with his family.

“You put your heart and soul into this county. You’ve been a part of a lot of good things that happened, and we have 10 more months to continue that. I’m looking forward to what we can accomplish in the next 10 months, and I mean that sincerely. I appreciate what you’ve done for the county,” said Chairman Stan Helton.

Commissioners expressed their appreciation of Johnson.

Post Two Glenn Patterson also affirmed his belief that Johnson has done a great job in his role in Post One for the past seven years.

Qualifying for 2020 local elections begins on Monday, March 2 at 9 a.m. and ends on Friday, March 6 at noon.

Fannin County Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson makes announcement about his political future.

Posted by Fetch Your News on Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Variance request disrupts meeting, hazard mitigation grant contract

Board of Commissioners
variance request

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – Tensions rose among those in the audience during Jan. 28 board of commissioners meeting after a contested variance request passed with two in favor and one abstaining.

Members of the Falls Over Like Blue Ridge Homeowners Association (HOA) had returned to see if the variance request would be approved or not. Chairman Stan Helton and Post Two Glenn Patterson approved the variance and Post One Earl Johnson had to abstain because Johnson Paving had previously been hired by Falls Over Lake Blue Ridge for Grandeur Dr. It was passed without any mention of the previous meeting’s prescribed mitigation or opposition.

Immediately after, the group could be heard saying, “Good thing it’s an election year” and “someone was paid off.”

Serene Mountain Properties (Serene) requested a variance for a lot on Grandeur Drive and HOA appeared before the commissioner to express their content with the request.

President Barbara Shrewsbury spoke for the HOA and stated that Serene’s variance contradicted itself.

“It says that the porch will be 17 feet from the edge of Grandeur Dr. The edge of any road in Fannin County is considered where the end of the easement is. If you go 17 feet off the road that’s going to be 37 feet from the center of the road. He says he’s going to go 24.5 feet from the center line,” explained Shrewsbury.

Serene wants to build off the slope of the road.

“If we have to go put a support wall to keep that road up, we won’t have anymore room. It’s going to be in driveways,” she stated. Shrewsbury also took issue with proposed wells being in the road easement as well.

After providing a wealth of information, Helton informed Shrewsbury that the commissioners don’t become involved in HOA disputes. He did ask the inspection office to contact Serene and set up a meeting with both parties to try and find an amicable solution.

Fetch Your News asked Helton if the two parties met to try and reach a solution. He told us that they had but were unable to find a solution.

The passing of the request does fall in line with the board’s policy to not get involved with HOA and developer arguments.

Grant for Hazard Mitigation Plan

EMA Director Robert Graham received approval to hire North Georgia Consulting Group to assist with the updating Fannin’s Hazard Mitigation Plan. The grant will pay for the service.

“They do a good job for us. They take care of all the documentation,” stated Graham. “We also received an extra $1,600 for management of the grant which will also help pay for local resources to complete the grant process. The bottom line is it won’t cost the county anything when it is all said and done.”

The current hazard mitigation plan is good through Dec. 2022, and this grant would update it for another five years. The application must be completed by Dec. 2021 and would last through 2026.

The grant provided $19,500 in Federal government funding, $2,600 from state, and $3,900 in local funds, which would be in-kind labor.

Commissioners also approved the purchase of a Ford Explorer for $29,940 for a new EMS Supervisor vehicle. The current EMS Supervisor vehicle, an F250, will be given to the new firefighters in Fannin for use. EMA/EMS budgeted for the purchase, and the Explorer was purchased from North Georgia Ford.

Public Works Purchase

Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff received approval for the $5,000 purchase of a debris blower from Mason Tractor. The equipment came with a 10 year warranty and will be used almost all year round.

Firing Range Property Lease

Sheriff Dane Kirby presented and received approval to enter into an agreement with McCaysville property for a new firing range. The sheriff’s office current space soon won’t be available for deputies to use. There is no cost to the county for use of the new property, but fencing will need to be put up around the area.

Fannin County’s New Library : Boards work together for a common goal

Community, News
Fannin County, Board of Commissioners, Fannin County Public Library Board, Mountain Regional Library Board, Chairman, Director, Board member, Post One, Post Two, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Ron Bolin, Claudia Gibson, Georgia House of Representatives, Speaker, David Ralston, grant, library, Sutton Architectural Services, Peter Sutton, Whitepath

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Will Fannin County finally have its stand alone library that so many citizens have petitioned for in the past? No, but the possibility of moving the current library to a larger more accommodating space is something that all agreed would be a vast improvement over the library’s current situation.

The Fannin County Board of Commissioners, the Fannin County Public Library Board and the Mountain Regional Library Board held a joint meeting to discuss the future of Fannin County’s Library and how to move forward to achieve a common goal.

“The purchase of the Whitepath building and moving the Administrative offices out of the courthouse fulfills a mandated referendum that was approved by the voters in Nov. 2016,” Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton said explaining the purpose of the called meeting. 

Fannin County, Board of Commissioners, Fannin County Public Library Board, Mountain Regional Library Board, Chairman, Director, Board member, Post One, Post Two, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Ron Bolin, Claudia Gibson, Georgia House of Representatives, Speaker, David Ralston, grant, library, Sutton Architectural Services, Peter Sutton, Whitepath

Petere Sutton discusses possible options for the Fannin County’s new library.

Helton added, “During the move, moving there and design, we have an opportunity to offer the library a better space with improved parking.”

The two boards took the time to open up dialogue and lay the groundwork for the library’s possible move. 

Peter Sutton with Sutton Architectural Services was also present to help work through concerns and share his thoughts on the redesign of the Whitepath building.

Sutton pointed out that the buildings structure, upon initial inspection, was in good standing and that the process would really be one of converting the building from it’s industrial function to a building of administrative function.

Among Sutton’s ideas were the possibility for the library to have its own entrance, and noted that as the building stands now there would be enough room for the library to double its square footage.

Interim Regional Library Director for Mountain Regional Library System, Claudia Gibson spoke on the current library, “From what I’ve seen. I do think the library is very inadequate for library services. It’s very small. The parking, as you all know I’m sure, is very bad. We worry about children. They have to cross the street.”

The size of the new library was a key topic of discussion among library board members. The current square footage of the Fannin County Library is approximately 6,800 square feet.

Fannin County Public Library board member Ron Bolin stated that according to state standards the new library would need at least 19,000 square feet. Bolin added, “For me it is critical that we meet state standards.”

State standards of square footage for a library is based upon projected population growth and while Fannin County would ideally like to see 19,000 square feet for the new library, it is possible that the new facility could start out with less footage and be expanded at a later date.

Bolin also brought to the forefront the issue of funding, stating that not only is the grant from the state for $1.3 million not a done deal, but also that it was his understanding that the county was running on deficit in 2020 and wondered where the county’s portion of funds would come from.

The library board members all expressed that Speaker of the Georgia House Representatives David Ralston’s announcement of the grant had taken them off guard, and pointed out that the grant is still up in the air.

Fannin County’s library funding from the state is on a list at the capitol to be voted upon but that vote has not taken place yet. Funding from the state, if voted to be given to the Fannin County project, would not be available until July 2020 at the earliest.

Regardless of the question of funding, both parties agreed to take care of due diligence in order to give the county the best possible chance of receiving state grant. Members of the Board of Commissioners and the two boards representing the library system expressed enthusiasm in moving forward with the project.

Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson conveyed what seemed to be a mutual feeling of everyone involved, “I think it’s a very good avenue for all of us combined.”

The boards will meet at a later date to go over findings with state standards and discuss design and needs.

Recreation department to start Pre-K program next fall

Community, News, Parks and Recreation
Pre-K program

FANNIN COUNTY, GA – Recreation Dept. (Rec. Dept.) Director Eddie O’Neal received approval from the board of commissioners to start a Pre-K program for the next school year, 2020-2021.

O’Neal has extensively researched the issue and believes it will be of great benefit to the local community. It will be open to three- and four-year-old children with a goal of 15 participants in each class.

“We’ve had a lot of requests and inquiries about a Pre-K program, explained O’Neal. “We’ve talked to the school system, and they actually have waiting lists at the elementary schools.”

Two part-time after-school program employees would become full-time and run the Pre-K service. They each hold the proper certifications to work with young children.

The three-year-old class would be held twice a week, while the four-year-old class would be three days a week at the same time.

Currently, program hours haven’t been set, but the children would need to be ready to go before the school buses run. O’Neal wants it to start in the fall with the 2020-2021 school year. Participation fees weren’t discussed during the meeting.

The Pre-K classes would take place in the same location as the after-school program, 682 Park Drive.

However, if the program doesn’t fill up, then the Rec. Dept. wouldn’t provide this service.

“But more than likely with the need, it will fill up,” inquired Post One Earl Johnson. “As far as I know, there is a huge demand for it. Offering for that age group of kids, we offer all kinds of services for kids, five to teenage. I think that will be a great service for parents in the community.”

O’Neal confirmed that he believes the classes will fill up, “one elementary school, I think they have 11 or 12 on a waiting list.”

Also, the Blue Ridge Methodist Church Pre-K services recently closed according to the city attorney.

Also the Fannin County Preschool at Friendship No. 3 off Galloway Road told FYN that the Georgia Dept. of Early Childcare and Learning has decided the school can no longer offer all day classes. Fannin County Preschool does still offer a morning and afternoon Monday thru Wednesday and for four-year-old, while three-year-old children can attend morning and afternoon classes on Tuesday and Thursday. 

The Pre-K program would be a $54,000 budget line item for the Rec. Dept., but that participation fees should cover a portion of the cost. O’Neal didn’t bring it up during his 2020 budget hearing because Pre-K services require state approval first. The Rec. Dept. was recently given the go-ahead by the state to proceed.

No contracts would need to be signed for the program.

Rec. Dept. budget would need to be adjusted if the classes fill up, and it moves forward.“I think it sounds great, Eddie, more offerings for the community,” stated Chairman Stan Helton.

SPLOST FUNDING FOR FIELD DRAINAGE

The Rec. Dept. also received SPLOST funding from the commissioners for field drainage at Tom Boyd Park. They approved a bid with Biome for $10,780 for engineered drawing and with River City Athletic Fields for $16,850 for laser grading, for a total of $27,630.

Biome projects would develop a drawing for the large baseball/softball field from the batting cages out through the end of field five. 

River City Athletic fields would perform the laser grading and add top mix to three of the fields. 

“I think it’s high time we do something about the drainage. We just need to make sure this time whatever dollars we’re spending, we’re fixing the drainage, not prolonging. We’ve had to do some things to get by for several years. Especially wet years, like this year [during] baseball season, it’s going to be tough,” said Johnson.

O’Neal asked both architects to have the drawings completed by the end of the school year.

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