City of Blue Ridge creates Downtown Development Authority

Downtown Blue Ridge, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – A Downtown Development Authority (DDA) could be in the near future for the City of Blue Ridge.

Opposition from some to creating this organization became overshadowed by the need for the city to obtain more funding, and certain funding and grants can only be obtained by a DDA.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, City Council, Mayor, Downtown Development Authority, DDA, Attorney, Resolution, Sunset Provision, Donna Whitener, Kenneth Gaddis, Rhonda Haight, Nathan Fitts, Robbie Cornelius, Harold Herenden, James Balli, Ann Arnold, Board members, Jay Hamilton, Gene Holcombe, Michelle Moran, Nichole Potzauf, Cesar Martinez, Jeff DePaola

Proposed boundaries of the downtown district in which the DDA will focus and serve.

Beyond gathering extra funds for the City of Blue Ridge, a DDA will also be a policy-making body and a major decision-making entity that plans and manages the downtown area.

Ann Arnold, who has 31 years of experience with DDAs and their development, was asked by the Mayor and Blue Ridge City Council to step-in in assisting with the creation and structuring of Blue Ridge’s DDA.

Arnold not only created a draft of the outlines for the new DDA, but also examined Blue Ridge for appropriate boundaries of a designated “downtown area” and interviewed potential applicants to fill the 7 member board.

In a special called Blue Ridge City Council meeting Arnold laid out her recommendations on all areas including who she felt would be ideal members of this inaugural board.

“I really was impressed with these people,” Arnold explained of the applicants that she interviewed, “You absolutely cannot go wrong with this board.”
Arnold stated that many of the applicants had already researched the role of a DDA and was familiar with the laws in which they would be working. Some applicants even went as far as to reach out to other DDAs in researching the role they would potentially be filling.

In the interview process Arnold asked each applicant the same questions. She took into account the applicants backgrounds and strong points in hopes of creating a diversified board. Her recommendations are as follows:

  • John (Jay) Hamilton to serve 6 years through Jan. 1, 2019 – Dec. 31, 2024.
  • Nichole Potzauf to serve 6 years through Jan. 1, 2019 – Dec. 31, 2024.
  • Gene Holcombe to serve 6 years through Jan. 1, 2019 – Dec. 31, 2024.
  • Michelle Moran to serve 4 years through Jan. 1, 2019 – Dec. 31, 2022.
  • Cesar Martinez to serve 4 years through Jan. 1, 2019 – Dec. 31, 2022.
  • Jeff DePaola to serve 2 Years through Jan. 1, 2019 – Dec. 31, 2020.

Originally it was discussed that Mayor Donna Whitener would serve as the seventh member. However, as Arnold saw that the Mayor position was already full-time she offered a different recommendation: “One of the board members, one of the seven will be a council member.”

“It would be nice to have different councilmembers, maybe every two years rotate and have some different insight,” Arnold explained her thoughts on this recommendation, “but also an opportunity for each of the council members to really understand the day to day work of the Downtown Development Authority.”

After Arnold gave her recommendations for board members she moved on to discuss the boundaries of the designated downtown area.

“The resolution does require that you (the city) designate the downtown development area that the downtown development would be serving,” Arnold said explaining the need to have clear boundaries.

The recommendations show the boundaries being roughly East First Street to the East, West Second Street to the West, McKinney Street to the South, and River Street to the North.

Questions arose from council members concerning areas already containing businesses that were not included, to which Arnold replied, “You really want to protect that residential. You have got some beautiful homes all around a number of these areas, and what you have by having that residential is you’ve got a built in audience. Those people are going to use goods and services. They can walk downtown.”

Blue Ridge City Attorney James Balli addressed the council about previously discussed concerns after listening to Arnold’s recommendations: “Once you activate them (DDA approval), they’re out there, whatever is in the resolution.”

Balli recommended that the council go through the DDA resolution more thoroughly and input provisions limiting control of the DDA and the permanence of the directors: “I would heavily recommend that you leave in the provisions about being able to remove directors for cause.”

A 7 year sunset provision was also recommended. This would essentially give the council the ability to dissolve the DDA after 7 years. Balli said of this precaution it “is as close as you are going to get to be able to kill it.”

Arnold questioned the sunset provision and said to the council that DDA and the City Council should be viewed as a team.

Further discussion and possible enactment of the DDA is expected to take place at the upcoming Blue Ridge City Council meeting to be held Tuesday, Dec. 11 at City Hall.

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

City of Blue Ridge spending comes into question

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – A large bill for the Blue Ridge City Pool and a final amendment to the City of Blue Ridge 2017 budget left new council members questioning the accountability and practices of the city when it comes to spending.

At the June Blue Ridge City Council meeting funds and lack thereof was a topic that was revisited throughout the evening. Blue Ridge Business Association President Cesar Martinez urged the council to take steps to acquire the funding needed for city improvements.

“You were all aware of the important issues facing the city, as you voiced your convictions towards better infrastructure, better parking solutions, and better bathroom facilities for our city and its visitors,” Martinez addressed the council reading from a prepared statement.

“Six months down the road and where are we?” Martinez questioned. “This city needs solutions now. Inaction is unacceptable.”

Martinez acknowledged shortfalls in trying to seek funding for these projects stating that grants could take months even years to come through.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge City Council, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Nathan Fitts, Kenneth Gaddis, Rhonda Haight, Harold Herndon, Robbie Cornelius, Blue Ridge Business Association, President, Cesar Martinez, Recreonics Inc, Spending, Budget, SPLOST, pool, paint, Downtown Development Authority

Blue Ridge Business Association President Cesar Martinez addresses the council about forming a Downtown Development Authority to help seek funding for the city.

Mayor Donna Whitener added to this that grants often have to be matched by city money.

Offering a possible solution to the lack of funding Martinez urged the council to established a Downtown Development Authority (DDA). Through a DDA the possibility of more funding opens up, funding which the city itself is ineligible to apply for.

Martinez cited that there are already 470 registered DDAs in the state of Georgia, and that the city is missing out on opportunities by not establishing a DDA of their own.

Council member Kenneth Gaddis thanked Martinez for addressing the council and questioned the city’s lack of focus on infrastructure.

“We’ve actually done about $800,000 in infrastructure this year,” Whitener responded to Gaddis, “$500,000 in one area and another 300 and something thousand.”

“We’re always spending money on infrastructure. We can’t keep up,” Whitener added.

Council member Nathan Fitts stated about funding issues, “A lot of what we were told as far as funding didn’t come through.”

Later an amendment to the city’s 2017 budget revealed that the previous council had already spent a large portion of projected revenue for 2018.

The previous council had approved for many of the city streets to be repaved in 2017, but the funding was not budgeted. To acquire the funds necessary the council then approved borrowing from the general fund and the Hotel/Motel tax account.

The general fund has now been paid back through the use of 2018 SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) collections, and the money borrowed from the Hotel/Motel account, in the amount of approximately $135,000, will not be reimbursed.

Gaddis showed surprise at this revelation: “So the previous council voted to use-”

“General fund money into your year,” Whitener quickly responded, “Into your term.”

Whitener went on to explain, “When I say we don’t have a lot of SPLOST money it’s because we’ve been paying SPLOST back from last term.”

With this revelation and the lack of funding for city projects, such as infrastructure and parking, Council member Nathan Fitts expressed his detestation when asked to approve a check in the amount of $9,608.04 for paint for the city’s pool.

According to Whitener the specialized paint is very costly, some of it being up to $263.00 for five gallons.

This invoice from Recreonics Inc. coupled with approximately $5,000 already spent on parts to fix the pool, brings the total amount well over the original $5,000 approved by the council earlier this year.

“So now we’ve spent triple,” Fitts said about the new invoice, “Did we get estimates on what paint was going to be before we bought it?”

Gaddis backed Fitts and questioned how the department got approval to spend this amount.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge City Council, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Nathan Fitts, Kenneth Gaddis, Rhonda Haight, Harold Herndon, Robbie Cornelius, Blue Ridge Business Association, President, Cesar Martinez, Recreonics Inc, Spending, Budget, SPLOST, pool, paint, Downtown Development Authority

Costly paint for the city pool led council to question if estimates were given before purchase.

Whitener simply answered, “They didn’t.”

“I think these department heads need to submit these estimates and bids ahead of time for approval,” Fitts went on.

Whitener, who agreed with this sentiment, stated of the department head, “I don’t think she realized how much paint it would take to paint the pool.”

“That’s why we get estimates,” Fitts replied explaining that there is no excuse. “That is unacceptable.”

Since the pool had already been painted the council had no choice but to approve to pay this debt.

“I don’t think we should have painted it period, but its been painted,” Whitener expressed her opinion.

Fitts added, “I think we should tell that department head, they better get out there and start marketing that pool to bring more revenue in.”

The Blue Ridge City Council will hold their next regular monthly meeting on Tue. July 10 at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

 

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

Fire and Ice a success in Blue Ridge

Community, Downtown Blue Ridge

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Once a year in the dead of winter, things get spicy in downtown Blue Ridge as residents and tourists alike experience a “chili” weekend in February.

The eighth annual Fire and Ice Chili Cook Off Festival, brought to you by the Blue Ridge Business Association partnering with the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce, kicked off Saturday, Feb. 17, and brought in crowds despite the weather.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Fire and Ice, Chili Cook Off, Blue Ridge Business Association, Fannin County Chamber of Commerce, David Ralston, B. Alison Sosebee, Kay Kendall, Doug David, Bob Evans, Cesar Martinez, Cindy Trimble, People's Choice Award, Chester Brunnenmeyer's Bar and Grill, Blue Jeans Pizza, Blue Ridge Brewery, Project Chimps, Habitat for Humanity, Hot House Missionary Church, Grilling Gangsters, Kelly Barton, Pitstop Chili, Boar's Nesters, Mercier Orchards, Chuck's Moonshine Chili

Crowds enjoyed the live ice sculpting demonstration provided by Rock On Ice.

Visitors to the festival were welcomed to take part in the judging of the chili cook off where the contestant with the highest number of votes takes home the coveted People’s Choice award.

The Fire and Ice Festival also now holds the honor of being the largest ice sculpting display in the Southeast. Award-winning National Ice Carving Champion Rock On Ice created many unique sculptures sponsored by several area businesses and demonstrated their difficult art form firsthand with live ice sculpting demonstrations in the park.

Official Chili Cook Off judges were also on hand to judge this years 16 contestants and to award first, second, and third place in four different categories.

Among the guest judges were Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives David Ralston, Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee, former celebrity chef Bob Evans, developer Doug David, and former chef and restaurant owner Kay Kendall.

“This is really one of the bigger events put on by the business association,” Blue Ridge Business Association President Cesar Martinez spoke about the festival.

Martinez explained that despite the unpredictable weather, this year’s festival saw a large turn out: “Better than last year. Last year, it rained actually more than this.”

Guest announcer Cindy Trimble took the stage at 3 p.m. for the moment that everyone had been waiting for, the announcement of 2018 Fire and Ice Chili Cook Off winners.

Trimble explained that judges were given five categories in which they had to rate each chili. These categories were aroma, color, taste, texture, and after-taste. Each category was rated on a scale of 1-to-10 and points from all judges were then added together to determine a winner.

The maximum number of points possible for a contestant to receive was 250.

The winners for each category were:

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Fire and Ice, Chili Cook Off, Blue Ridge Business Association, Fannin County Chamber of Commerce, David Ralston, B. Alison Sosebee, Kay Kendall, Doug David, Bob Evans, Cesar Martinez, Cindy Trimble, People's Choice Award, Chester Brunnenmeyer's Bar and Grill, Blue Jeans Pizza, Blue Ridge Brewery, Project Chimps, Habitat for Humanity, Hot House Missionary Church, Grilling Gangsters, Kelly Barton, Pitstop Chili, Boar's Nesters, Mercier Orchards, Chuck's Moonshine Chili

Chester Brunnenmeyer’s Bar and Grill took home the People’s Choice Award for a second year in a row.

Adult Individual
1. Grilling Gangsters with 176 points
2. Kelly Barton with 174 points
3. Pitstop Chili with 153 points

Team Adult
1. Boars Nesters with 175 points
2. Mercier Orchards with 162 points
3. Chuck’s Moonshine Chili with 155 points

Civic Team
1. Project Chimps with 178 points
2. Habitat for Humanity with 164 points
3. Hot House Missionary Church with 129 points

Restaurant
1. Chester Brunnenmeyer’s Bar and Grill with 168 points
2. Blue Jeans Pizza with 166 points
3. Blue Ridge Brewery with 165 points

Project Chimps, a sanctuary for chimpanzees, received the highest rating by the judges, and Trimble pointed out a uniqueness to their recipe: “This was a really unusually chili and you guys loved it.”

The recipe used by Project Chimps was “chimp friendly,” meaning that all the ingredients used were ingredients that the chimps could also eat and often do for their meals.

Finally, the coveted People’s Choice award was given. Out of 934 ballots turned in by visitors to the festival, Chester Brunnenmeyer’s received 185 of those votes, giving them the people’s choice chili award for a second year in a row.

 

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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

City council to hold town hall meeting Tuesday

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – An agenda has been set for Tuesday night’s Blue Ridge City Council town hall meeting.

Headlining the meeting will be discussion of the upcoming Georgia Cities Week, a week-long celebration from April 22 to 28 of cities across Georgia sponsored by the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA). GMA is a non-profit legal advocacy organization, of which Blue Ridge is a municipality member, that offers consulting services to its member cities.

During Georgia Cities Week, the city will be coordinating a city-wide litter clean-up. Donated dumpsters will be situated at locations within the city limits. Also, the city will conduct a Mayor’s Essay Contest, which will be open to all elementary, middle, high school or home school students. Those participating in the essay contest should compose a 150 to 300-word essay centered around the topic of “If I were mayor, I would …”

The council will also report on the progress of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) water infrastructure improvement project occurring in the neighborhoods east of East Second Street.

The farmer’s market is also on the agenda for the town hall meeting. During the last two city council meetings, the future of the farmer’s market property has been a much-discussed topic. At the February meeting, Council members Rhonda Haight and Ken Gaddis led discussion of the city council’s desire for the city to keep the property and refurbish the facility.

However, at the March 13 meeting, Jim Sisson, owner of Sisson Log Homes, approached the council with the prospect of buying, or perhaps leasing, the property through a bidding process. Sission explained his company would use the property for an overflow area for materials during the drying process. No decision was made, and the council agreed that local input from citizens at the town hall meeting would assist in reaching an ultimate decision for the future of the property.

Another item to be addressed at the town hall is downtown public restrooms. At the March 13 meeting, local business owner and President of the Blue Ridge Business Association (BRBA) Cesar Martinez pleaded with the council to find solution to what he felt are the city’s two most important downtown needs: parking and restrooms. Councilman Nathan Fitts assured Martinez the city was working diligently to address both of these downtown needs.

The city pool is also slated to be discussed at the town hall. The council has addressed the idea of refurbishing the city pool at prior meetings and have mentioned the success of the Blairsville city pool as an example for Blue Ridge to follow in this regard.

Rounding out the meeting will be a public commentary session.

The town hall meeting will take at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 27, at the Blue Ridge City Hall on West First Street.

 

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.

Blue Ridge City Council meeting slated for Tuesday

Uncategorized

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Blue Ridge City Council will address a number of agenda items at the final regularly scheduled meeting of the year Tuesday, Dec. 12, at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Last month’s meeting was cancelled after three council members had to tend to other obligations and could not attend the meeting.

City Council Member Rhonda Thomas

According to the meeting agenda, Council Member Rhonda Thomas will present a second reading of the city’s amendment to the Electric Shuttle Bus Ordinance. After the reading, the council will vote whether or not to approve the amendment. Thomas is also scheduled to lead discussion about a potential parking deck for the downtown area.

The council will also address an application for the Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG) for the city, which must be submitted by Dec. 31, 2017, to be eligible to receive potential LMIG funding for 2018.

Traver Aiken, executive director of the Blue Ridge Housing Authority, is scheduled to speak to the council concerning the prospect of waiving Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) payments to the city as reimbursement for the Authority’s costs to repair sewer lines on BRHA property earlier this year.

The council will also vote on Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) lease resolutions for the purchase of a vehicle for the Blue Ridge Police Department as well as a trackhoe excavator for the city water department.

Resolutions to apply for Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) grant money for future potential projects, including sewer system upgrades and a water meter replacement project, will also be addressed.

Several purchase invoices will be awaiting approval from the council at the meeting, including three from Carter & Sloope engineering firm, one from Johnson Paving and another from Fortiline Waterworks.

In public commentary, Cesar Martinez, local business owner and president of the Blue Ridge Business Association, is scheduled to address the council.

 

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.

Multiple topics addressed at Blue Ridge town hall meeting

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The future of the farmer’s market property and the city pool stood out among five main topics of conversation addressed by the Blue Ridge City Council as well as dozens of attending citizens in a town hall meeting Tuesday, March 27.

In the February and March council meetings, the council discussed options for either selling, leasing or renovating the farmer’s market property off of Summit Street. At the most recent meeting, Jim Sisson, owner of Sisson Log Homes, expressed his desire to either buy or lease the property as an overflow space to use for drying materials for his business.

While the council members seemingly agreed in the past meetings in their desire to renovate the property and to reopen it as an arts and/or entertainment destination in an ideal scenario, the podium was opened to the audience at the town hall meeting for direct input from citizens to gauge the consensus of residents.

Accepting the invitation was Joe Webb, of Dial, who explained that while he lives outside the city limits, he does have an interest in the city, working with the Blue Ridge Community Theater. Among the suggestions put forth by Webb were to use the property as a centralized location for a stand-alone public library or to simply sell the property to the highest bidder in an effort to establish “hotel and some retail density in that area.”

Webb went on to admit while there is some sentimental value attributed to the property, “economically, it’s literally a relic of the past.”

Another citizen, Larry Bersyn, asked about the amount of income the farmer’s market property was contributing to the city.

“It has zero income, right now, just expenses,” Mayor Donna Whitener answered, referring to utility costs.

“So, why do we still have it?” Bersyn asked.

Councilwoman Rhonda Haight explained the farmer’s market is a unique property that the city owns. “It could become a really neat art district, which we don’t have,” Haight added, also stating she would like to see the property double as an event center.

Councilman Nathan Fitts stated he liked the idea of converting the area into an arts and cultural center but was concerned about the cost to renovate.

“We do have somebody who would like to lease it,” Whitener reminded the council, likely referring to Sisson. “So until we we come up with a plan, why do we not consider leasing it out? At least it stops our bleeding.”

Whitener also explained Sisson would be willing to temporarily lease the property and move off the property once the city did produce a long-term plan for the property as long as he was given a 30 to 60-day notice to vacant.

Another citizen pointed out that an arts and cultural district would mostly benefit tourists but selling the property to make way for a stand-alone library would benefit the working people of the community.

Brian Pritchard, publisher of FetchYourNews, pleaded with the council to lease the property to Sisson, a 17-year local business owner, until a long-term plan was established. “Make a long-term plan, but maybe in the short-term, lease it to Mr. Sisson and say, ‘Thank you for being a business owner in the city for 17 years,'” Pritchard said.

Ultimately, Mayor Whitener agreed this was the best option for the city.

Tony Byrd, left, discusses repairs to the city pool with the Blue Ridge City Council.

Tony Byrd, city street superintendent and shop mechanic, was on hand at the meeting to discuss maintenance issues with the city pool. Whitener explained the pool has a leak in the main drain and needs replacement of internal filters, manifold gaskets and valves. She also stated there was possible leak in the skimmer system.

Byrd stated to repair the aforementioned issues, the estimate would be between $5,000 and $10,000. If there is a leak in the skimmer system, Whitener stated it would be “many tens of thousands” of dollars to repair. The mayor also said she asked Byrd to present a definite amount to the council by the April meeting for the costs to repair the smaller issues to open it for this summer and then the city would look to the 2019 pool season to have the more expensive issues resolved.

Whitener also stated 1,429 people used the pool in 2017, which amounted to just under $6,000 in revenue.

In addition to repairing the pool, the council discussed ideas for constructing a city splash pad and Whitener suggested forming a committee to look for grants and/or create a campaign to generate funds to pay for these projects.

When Haight asked the audience for input, Bersyn said, “Sell the farmer’s market, use the money from the farmer’s market to pay for the pool (and) we have a new pool next year … And stop wasting the city’s money.”

Joe Webb, left, talks with the Blue Ridge City Council about the possibility of working with the county to build an indoor pool facility.

Webb also spoke on the issue and mentioned that the county was studying the prospect of creating an indoor pool at the Tom Boyd Recreation Center. Webb stated he would rather see an indoor pool located more centrally and within the city.

Council members Nathan Fitts and Haight agreed to meet with the county in the near future about the possibility of forming a joint venture to build an indoor pool.

 

The upcoming Georgia Cities Week, which will take place April 22 to 28 in Blue Ridge, was discussed by the council. Georgia Cities Week is a week-long celebration sponsored by the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA). GMA is a non-profit legal advocacy organization, of which Blue Ridge is a municipality member, that offers consulting services to its member cities.

During the week, Blue Ridge will be coordinating a city-wide litter clean-up campaign in which residents and organizations are asked to dispose of accumulated litter in two dumpsters donated by Advanced Disposal that will be situated at locations within the city limits. Possible dumpster locations discussed by council included the farmer’s market property on Summit Street, near the Co-Op store on East Main Street and possibly at the Kiwanis Fairgrounds.

In the same vein, Council Members Ken Gaddis and Rhonda Haight put forth the idea of the city beginning to conduct a regular small brush pick-up twice in the month of April and again during the fall after leaves have fallen in an effort to keep gutters and storm drains clear of debris.

The city will also conduct a Mayor’s Essay Contest during the week, which will be open to all elementary, middle, high school or home school students. Those participating in the essay contest should compose a 150 to 300-word essay centered around the topic of “If I were mayor, I would …”

Other discussed ideas for Georgia Cities Week included reaching out to Red Cross, the Humane Society of Blue Ridge, and Georgia Mountains Health about possibly conducting a blood drive, animal adoption fair and health fair, respectively.

Mayor Donna Whitener stated she had recently spoken to representatives from the local chapter of Future Farmers of America (FFA) who expressed interest in participating in a beautification project for the downtown area, which would include situating planters along the sidewalks near downtown businesses. Whitener explained the city would be responsible for the purchase of the planters and plants and “they (FFA) will put (the planters) together for us.”

When the mayor asked local business owner and President of the Blue Ridge Business Association (BRBA) Cesar Martinez of the number of planters he thought would be needed, Martinez said he felt 30 planters would be sufficient.

Regarding another area of downtown beautification, Martinez spoke to the council about the possibility of erecting standards along streets to display small flags or banners. Martinez stated several different types of banners could be produced displaying the various downtown events, such as Fire & Ice or Trout Fest, that take place throughout the year. He added if the city paid for the standards, the Chamber of Commerce and the BRBA would be willing to split costs with the city to produce the banners. Whitener stated she thought the standards ran around $25 a piece and Pam Fink, of the BRBA, said the cost to produce the flags would be around $35 per flag.

Martinez was told to put together a definite proposal to present to the council at a later date.

An update on the current Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) project near Orchard Boulevard was given. The mayor stated the water infrastructure improvement project was scheduled to begin April 5. The council spoke of what to consider for the next CDBG project, and it was agreed that addressing the flooding issues near Ada Street should be the next project.

At the March 13 council meeting, Ben and Natalie Kissel, city residents who live in the Ada Street flood plain, talked with the council about recent flooding problems in that neighborhood. Gaddis reported that he along with a representative from Carter & Sloope, the city’s contracted engineering firm, visited the area Wednesday, March 21, to study the issue.

“There are some serious issues we’re having in flooding areas and we put together a pretty good game plan,” Gaddis explained. He added that surveyors from Carter & Sloope would be examining the area to determine which property owners would need to provide the city with easements to allow the city to move forward with a long-term improvement project. In the short-term, Gaddis stated the city could install storm culverts and water bumper rails to help direct water flow away from owners’ properties.

Whitener also mentioned the city could receive additional state funding assistance by pursuing a WaterFirst Community designation. The mayor said this application process typically takes about six to eight months. The designation is awarded to municipalities demonstrating a strong commitment to water resource stewardship by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

A project to construct a two, or possibly three, story downtown restroom facility near the depot was also discussed. According to Whitener, the existing plan to build a two-story facility would cost $450,000 and the city has already been approved for a $300,000 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant, leaving the city to pay the remaining $150,000. Fitts reported he had heard the cost would be in the range of $750,000.

After Martinez asked about a target date for finalizing plans for the restrooms, Mayor Whitener stated the city would know more after its meeting with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs Wednesday about options for the ARC grant.

 

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.

Farmer’s market property, drive-in discussed at council meeting

News

[Featured image: Jim Sisson, left, of Sisson Log Homes, discusses the possibility of purchasing the farmer’s market property from the city with council members Ken Gaddis, second from left, Nathan Fitts, Mayor Donna Whitener, and City Attorney James Balli.]

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – In a three-hour Blue Ridge City Council meeting Tuesday night, March 13, a wide variety of topics took center stage.

The future of the farmer’s market property off of Summit Street was discussed again. Last month, the council weighed options for the property moving forward and discussed whether to sell, lease or refurbish the property. Strong opposition to sell was voiced by Councilwoman Rhonda Haight and Councilman Ken Gaddis and the council agreed to discuss the issue further at a following meeting.

This month, Jim Sisson, owner of Sisson Log Homes, was present to propose selling the property in a bidding process. Sisson spoke of recent uses, such as held festivals and overflow parking, for the property and stated the property was not an ideal location for either purpose. He also described the property as “negative-performing asset,” meaning that it is and would cost the city more to operate it than the revenue the property would generate. Sisson cited costs for liability insurance and utilities as necessary operating expenditures to the city. Mayor Donna Whitener estimated the city spends between $6,000 and $10,000 a year on utilities alone for the property.

“If you were to sell it us or somebody else, it would at least be bringing in some tax revenue,” Sisson continued.

Whitener mentioned in earlier talks with Sisson, the prospect of leasing the property was discussed. “Have you put any thought into that?” Whitener asked Sisson.

Sisson responded saying his company would prefer to buy the property but would consider leasing it instead. He also added that the property would be used as an overflow area for Sisson Log Homes to store materials in the drying process and no damage would come to the property. “Probably, (we would) not use the platform that is there,” Sisson said.

No decision was made by the council to proceed with any process of either selling or leasing the property.

Another city landmark, the Swan Drive-In, was discussed during the council meeting. Earlier in the day, the city released a statement via social media addressing and denying rumors of the city attempting to close the drive-in as a result of noise complaints received from nearby residents.

In that post, city representatives stated, “The city is committed to working with stakeholders on both sides of the issue to reach a solution that continues to allow the Swan to operate as one of the City’s favorite attractions.”

At the council meeting, City Attorney James Balli also addressed the concern saying, “Let me be clear: the drive-in is going nowhere. I will say that one more time very slowly. The drive-in is going nowhere. The city owns the drive-in. The drive-in will operate. If I had anything to do with shutting down the drive-in, my wife would make me sleep on the couch … I’ve enjoyed it just as many of you have. It’s an attraction to the city.”

However, Balli continued to say the city was beginning to look into various options to address the noise ordinance complaints stemming from the drive-in. The city attorney also stated the operator of the drive-in is exploring methods to reduce noise emanating from the site.

“We would always favor citizens working things out privately without any involvement from the city,” Balli said, adding the city was confident a mutual agreement would soon be reached.

Whitener told the council she visited the drive-in over the previous weekend and was told a 20-foot-high, 100-foot-long noise buffering screen is slated to be installed soon. “So, we won’t know (of the screen’s effectiveness) until it goes up. So give us a chance to work through that,” Whitener said.

Later, Councilman Ken Gaddis spoke of the city’s current policy for meeting decorum. Gaddis stated, “The previous council took a stand to where public comments was not necessary, was not required and definitely was not important.”

Garnering applause from the audience, Gaddis explained he would like to see any item requiring a motion go to public comment before moving to a vote from the council.

“I don’t come up and say I know anything really,” Gaddis continued. “You all voted me in. For whatever reason, you all thought I was important. I came up here with a skill set to help with infrastructure, but everybody in the community has a skill set that’s beyond me, beyond (Councilman) Nathan (Fitts), beyond all of us, and you have an important voice and we want to hear that voice.”

Councilwoman Rhonda Haight agreed with Gaddis and clarified she did not vote on the decision to limit public commentary in the last term.

“However … I’ve seen meetings that have lasted until 11 p.m. I’ve seen meetings that have gotten completely out of control, so we would have to have control. We would have to have time limits on speech,” Haight stated.

Fitts also agreed with both Gaddis on bringing back increased public commentary and with Haight on enforcing order throughout the meeting.

Mayor Whitener explained City Clerk Kelsey Ledford was currently working to amend the meeting policy to allow for more commentary.

A budget amendment to account for incoming funds from a Georgia Municipal Association safety grant, maintenance to City Hall and the Police Department buildings, the hiring of a zoning and land development administrator, and revised pay scales for water department employees was approved by the council.

A conflict of interest exemption statement was approved by the council concerning the $500,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) awarded to the city in 2016 to upgrade water and fire protection infrastructure in portions of neighborhoods east of or near East Second Street. The statement gave public notice of technical conflicts of interest among city council members who either live or own property in the area, have family members who live in the area and/or have business interests in the area.

A town hall meeting was announced to take place at City Hall March 27 at 6 p.m. Mayor Whitener explained the meeting will address public concerns over the CDBG project, which she stated should be halfway completed by then, the farmer’s market property, the city pool, and downtown restrooms among other topics.

In other business, the council discussed the abandonment of an undeveloped portion of Hill Street near East First Street and another unnamed street near the BP gas station on West First Street.

The council also approved an annual $1,500 donation to the Humane Society for the spay and neuter of feral cats throughout Blue Ridge.

A resolution to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Fannin County, McCaysville and Morganton was approved. The memorandum of understanding is an agreement between the entities to share costs for the Nixle emergency management agency (EMA) notification service to residents and citizens.

A resolution declaring April 22 through 28, 2018, to be Georgia Cities Week in Blue Ridge approved and signed by Mayor Whitener.

In public commentary, President of the Blue Ridge Business Association (BRBA) Cesar Martinez stressed to the council the continued need for additional public parking and bathrooms in the downtown business district. Martinez offered the help of the BRBA in forming committees or focus groups to address the situation. In response, Fitts told Martinez both items were top priorities for the council. “We’re not ignoring these. We have a lot going on right now. We are diligently working on them,” Fitts said.

Local sculptor Martin McHan, who created the Blue Bear sculpture that has previously been displayed in the downtown city park, asked about the sculpture’s condition and the kiln-drying process it is currently undergoing. The sculpture was recently removed from the park after a termite infestation was discovered within it. The bear was then transferred to a large kiln operated by Sisson Log Homes in an effort to exterminate the termites. Mayor Whitener explained to McHan after the kiln-drying process is complete, the bear would be painted, restored to the park and the city plans to erect a shelter to protect the sculpture from the weather.

McHan then addressed Jim Sisson directly saying, “Mr. Sisson, I’d like to personally, from the bottom of my heart, thank you … I’d like to thank you for putting (the sculpture) in that kiln because I know how much that costs … It’s a very, very expensive process that this man has donated.”

 

 

 

Author

Jason Beck

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

Blue Ridge City Council holds regular meeting June 13th 2017- Focus on Parking and Streets

News

The Blue Ridge City Council held its regular meeting on June 13th 2017.  The meeting began with approval of previous meeting minutes and moved on to action items.

The items on the agenda were the 2016 budget amendment No.2, Burn Permit Ordinance (first reading, Work Detail agreement, Carter & Sloope Task Release No. 12 (Downtown West Water Main Upgrades, Phase II),  Swimming lessons contract with Rene Mashburn, Downtown Park Grant, & Parking and Streets.  See Full Video of meeting:

 

The meeting moved quickly until the Parking and Streets which was added to the agenda by Blue Ridge City Council member Angela Arp.  Discussion regarding changing the current ordinance from 2 hour parking in certain sections to 3 hour between particular hours of either 10am to 4pm or 9am to 5pm turned into a motion.  The motion carried with Blue Ridge City Council member Rhonda Thomas voting no and voicing her concerns stating she would prefer to perhaps hold a town hall or discuss with downtown business owners.  Arp claimed she had spoke with business owners however local business owner and President of the Blue Ridge Business Association, Cesar Martinez, stated he had never discussed this with her.

The council approved the purchase of two additional cameras for the pool and an invoice for Welch, Walker & Associates was approved as well.  Discussion was had regarding work on streets in downtown.  Bids came in from Johnson and Caldwell on two bids with Johnson coming in lower on both bids.

During the public comments Cesar Martinez was on the agenda to speak.  While giving his update he once again voiced his concern for business owners and visitors due to the parking problems.  Another business owner who owns the Blue Ridge Bed & Breakfast also asked to speak and he too voiced concerns over the parking.

Pictured L-R (Cesar Martinez, Bill Ryan, Gene Holcomb, and Council Member Angela Arp)

Arp requested a motion in order to respond to Martinez but Arp did not receive a 2nd so the motion died.  She did however use the opportunity to work in a response to Martinez after a motion carried to allow more discussion on the Streets.  Council member Thomas voiced her concerns about the parking situation and said she may be within a month or two from a major announcement which would address the parking issues.

Bill Ryan spoke during Public Comments and is concerned with the storm water drainage.  He is interested in a time frame for resolution to the issue stating water was up to their steps at their establishment.  He said he filed a request with the City of Blue Ridge to remove debris from the drainage ditch but to his knowledge nothing had been done.

The meeting concluded with a motion to move into executive session to discuss personnel.  During executive session the council replaced two lifeguards with new hires and moved existing lifeguards to Head Lifeguard positions.  Danny Cook was rehired at $16 dollars per hour to work at the Water Plant.  The decision was made to also move Mark Patterson and Brad Hawkins, employees at the Water Plant, to $16 per hour.

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